Photographic Reflections

Reflections in the harbour, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Reflections in the harbour, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Reflections are all around us and make an excellent subject to photograph. Sometimes the reflections are of a specific subject, perhaps a tree or a building. Other times the reflection will be an abstract in itself; for example light sources or cloud formations. We can easily shoot reflections as an abstract image or as a subject; the subject matter, depth of field and focal length of the lens often determining what the resulting photograph will be.

When we want to photograph reflections there are a number of photography tips and techniques that make the shooting a little easier and the resulting photography really stand out.

Any of your lenses will work just fine for photographing reflections but I often lean towards the longer focal lengths. This tends to isolate the reflection more, creating a subject out of the reflection rather than the reflection just being part of the image. Is the reflection the subject of the photograph or a reflection of the subject? This will determine the appropriate technique to be used. The key here is to experiment, move around and view the subject from different angles. You may get a few weird stares as you wander around looking at the ground but the resulting photographs are well worth the effort.

What do you focus on when you are photographing reflections? When using wide angle lenses at normal focus distances much of the image tends to be sharp, just one of the results of the wide angles unless you are very close to the subject. With longer focal length telephoto lenses you get very different results. Often I shoot with the telephoto lenses close to wide open, perhaps in the f2.8 to f5.6 range. With the resulting limited depth of field when using longer focal length lenses I can either focus on the reflected object, in this case the maple trees below, or the surface where the reflection is located, the stream in the following photograph. As you can see the result is quite different.

Maple trees - the image is focused on the leaves and trunk of the trees

Maple trees - the image is focused on the leaves and trunk of the trees. Lens: 150mm, ISO: 200, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter: 1/125

Maple trees - the image is focused on the surface of the water

Maple trees - the image is focused on the surface of the water. Note the different feel compared to the previous image. Lens: 150mm, ISO: 200, Aperture: 4, Shutter: 1/250

What about flipping the image over? Personally I find this to look a little awkward as it looks like the image was flipped over and not quite correct. Perhaps this is because I am a photographer and recognize this technique, perhaps not. You do see this done regularly so it’s more a matter of personal preference. The following images of this wonderfully painted house on a French canal is a good example of this technique. Which do you prefer?

A colourful house in France - normal reflected orientation.

A colourful house in France - normal reflected orientation. Lens: 150mm, ISO: 200, Aperture: 9, Shutter: 1/60

A colourful house in France - image rotated 180 degrees.

A colourful house in France - image rotated 180 degrees.

With reflections in some ways you are combining two images, perhaps a man made object reflected in a stream or in this case an old versus modern architectural mix in this photograph of the Saint-Bonaventure Church in Lyon, France. This contrast in images can be a very powerful tool.

Saint-Bonaventure Church, Lyon, France

Saint-Bonaventure Church, Lyon, France. Lens: 44mm, ISO: 250, Aperture: 4, Shutter: 1/125

Reflections really suit the abstract side of photography. Again, I find the longer focal length lenses to be slightly better for these images as I can isolate the details more. With images like the Seine River below I will often shoot 4 or 5 images of the same subject in quick succession. It’s amazing with moving water how different each image will appear as the reflection dances on the surface.

Night Reflections, Seine River, Paris, France

Night Reflections, Seine River, Paris, France. Lens: 125mm, ISO: 250, Aperture: 3.5, Shutter: 1/3

Wooden boat hull, Port Townsend, Washington, USA. Lens: 150mm, ISO: 200, Aperture: 5.6, Shutter: 1/60

There are reflections everywhere once you take the time to look for them and they make for excellent photography subjects. On your next trip to the woods or town take your camera with you and explore this wonderful subject matter.

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6 Responses to “Photographic Reflections”

  1. Ryan Cowles says:

    Wonderful article! The pictures are amazing, and I really enjoyed reading your article as well. I’ll retweet it for you too!
    .-= Ryan Cowles´s last blog ..Hiking to Headstones – Granby and Simsbury, CT =-.

  2. George says:

    I found this article to be both informative and interesting. Thanks for all the tips — I can hardly wait to try them out.
    .-= George´s last blog ..Scenic Sunday #96: Calabash, North Carolina =-.

  3. Lynn Wiles says:

    Hi Kevin,
    As you know, I’m fond of reflections. I do think that in the case of the house, it looks better rotated, giving it an ethereal look. I think my favorite of this grouping is the boat. Really nice.
    .-= Lynn Wiles´s last blog ..After a Rainy Night =-.

  4. Sara Chapman in Seattle, USA says:

    I like the subject of reflections very much. Sometimes it’s the cat’s pajamas, you might say (just great) and other times it just adds some depth and character.
    .-= Sara Chapman in Seattle, USA´s last blog ..Bromeliad with red center =-.

  5. Maxime Gousse says:

    Nice reflections here too :) And thank you for your comments on my blog as well.
    .-= Maxime Gousse´s last blog ..A Deeper Frame: 21 pages of wisdom =-.

  6. Karen says:

    Great images Kevin! I must try more reflections; thanks for the tips.

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