5 Tips On How to Photograph Reflections

By Geoff Harris

Reflecting On The Matter

Manhattan Skyline

Reflections are a great element to include in your photography. They can range from conventional reflections of mountains or trees in water, or more mysterious portraits of people's faces reflected in glass. It takes a bit of time and thought to shoot reflections properly, though, so here are some tips

1) Choose your time


Early morning is a good time for reflections as the light can be really nice but make sure that mist or fog isn't reducing the clarity of the reflections.

Try to ensure that what is reflected can still be recognised – try to preserve the shape of a tree, for example, rather than ending up with an amorphous mass.

If you are shooting water in sunny conditions, you may need to use a polarising filter to reduce glare, which can make it harder to see what it's being reflected.

2) Consider using a tripod and ND Grade filter

Alone tree in lake with color sky

Since we are basically talking about landscape photography here, it's good to remember some of the golden rules of that genre. Use a tripod if you can to avoid camera shake, and a narrow aperture (e.g. narrower than f/8) in order to maximise depth and field and ensure front to back sharpness.

By using a tripod you are forced to think more carefully about exposure, too, so use the exposure compensation button and histogram to ensure the scene is nicely lit. An ND Grad filter is also useful for balancing the exposure of the sky and water. Keep ISO low to minimise noise.

3) Reflections in puddles

my shoes on 50th st

Reflections in smaller bodies of water can also look good – it's a fresh, creative way to shoot iconic cities like Venice, or famous buildings. Again, you need to carefully adjust your exposure to ensure that the reflection can be properly seen in the water.

Changing to manual focus might be necessary too, as your autofocus can struggle to find anything to lock on to. Including extra elements in the reflection, such as a bird flying past, can make the image more interesting too.

4) Reflected faces

Street photography VX4C1328-Edit

You can also get nice shots by taking pictures of people through windows, particularly those of cars and trains. If they starting wistfully into the distance it gives a sense of a poignant farewell.

Again, your enemy here is glare reducing the reflected detail, so be prepared to use a polariser, and whatever you do, don't use straight-on flash – you will get a faithful reflection of the flash firing!

5) Editing tips

Tipsoo lake sunset
When it comes to editing your reflected images, there are some essential jobs, like straightening up wonky horizons. Converting to black and white can work well with reflections too, but only do so if you can lose the colour in the image without undermining its overall impact.

Be prepared to darken the tones and shadows in the reflection to bring out detail, but try not to lose shadow detail altogether if you can avoid it. Consider your cropping options too. A shot of a row of trees reflected in a lake can look much more impactful in a 16:9 'letterbox' or panoramic format.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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