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How to Capture Reflections in a Photo

Reflections make for some of the most intriguing and visually appealing shots a photographer can take. But achieving those crystal clear, mirror-like images is no easy task. A lot of people think good photography comes down to good equipment. Photographing reflections, however, is a skill that shows no lens or camera can do for you what a little knowledge and a lot of patience can.

by Korey Peterson

Reflections make for some of the most intriguing and visually appealing shots a photographer can take. But achieving those crystal clear, mirror-like images is no easy task. A lot of people think good photography comes down to good equipment. Photographing reflections, however, is a skill that shows no lens or camera can do for you what a little knowledge and a lot of patience can.

1

Depth of field

Because you’re trying to bring multiple elements into focus in a reflection shot, a wide depth of field is a must. The goal is to bring both the subject and its reflection into focus, which means a lot of aperture work. A smaller aperture will give you a wider depth of field to play with, so choose an f-stop around f/9 or f/11 and shoot in manual or aperture priority mode to make adjustments on the fly easier.

Spray Park by Lijuan Guo.jpg
Photo by Lijuan Guo.

2

Composition

Decide whether a reflection is going to be the main subject of your photo or if it will make the perfect accent to a larger landscape. An image reflected in a small pool of water in the foreground can provide a great detail to an already stunning shot, or you can use a larger body of water to make a reflection of mountains or a forest the star of the show. You can also get creative and shoot an “upside down” shot by only capturing the reflection, or create a layered effect by finding an angle that allows some underwater objects to subtly show themselves beneath the reflection.

3

Timing

Timing is paramount for reflections. To achieve a mirror-like quality, conditions need to be just right for your shot, and this is where patience comes into play. Even the slightest breeze can ruin the perfect shot by creating ripples on the water and distorting the reflection. Finding the right light is also key, since direct light on the water’s surface can create glare, as well as making the water more translucent, rather than reflective. A polarizing or neutral-density filter can help with this, but it can’t substitute for proper knowledge about how light will interact with the subject and the reflective surface.

Find the time

  • Wind: Wind is usually calmest in the early morning and late evening, allowing the surface of the water to achieve that crisp glasslike texture and letting the reflections really shine. Alternately, you can search out a water source that is well sheltered from the wind to get the same effect.
  • Light: Know which compass direction your subject faces and whether the sun is going to be most direct on the subject you’re shooting in the morning or evening. The best conditions for a reflection are when the sun is directly on the subject but the water is still in shade.
  • Patience: The most important aspect to shooting a reflection shot is patience. A lot depends on external factors — namely the weather, which doesn’t always cooperate. Take your time, don’t rush and wait until the right conditions are in place to get the perfect shot.