Tips for capturing reflections

Article by Wojciech Toman

One of my favourite compositional elements in photography are reflections. You can use them to make composition much more interesting, for example by adding symmetry to your photos. Reflections add a lot of depth and interest to the photos. They can make it much easier to tell the story.

Here are some tips to make reflections stand out in your photos:

  1. First of all reflections are very common. They don’t appear only on water surfaces like lakes or rivers. You can find them in puddles, windows, cars bodies, door handles and even in human eyes. It means that if you want to capture reflections you just need to look around you. Possibilities are endless!
  2. Second thing to be aware of is that reflections look different depending on the angle you look at a surface from. If it’s transparent (eg. glass) or semi-transparent (eg. water in rivers) there will be yet another phenomenon visible on the surface known as refractions (bending of light as it goes from one medium to another). So basically you won’t only see reflection but will also see-through the surface (eg. you will see stones on the bottom of the river). If you want to have more reflections and less refractions in your photo make sure to shoot the surface in which you want to reflect the scene at a low angle. The lower the angle, the more reflections (and less refractions) you will see. What I often do is to take a photo from the level of the surface which I use to create reflections. If possible I simply put my camera on this surface (don’t try this with water as your camera might not like moisture!). This way it looks almost like a mirror. It is especially useful if you want to create reflections in transparent or in semi-transparent surfaces like water surface or window glass.
  3. Use wide-angle lens together with point 2 to make reflection appear larger than it really is. For instance in the image below the puddle was about 0.5 m in diameter but it looks as if it has around 50 m in diameter.
  4. Use Circular Polarizing Filter to enhance reflections. It might sound strange as Circular Polarizing Filters are typically used to reduce reflections but it’s possible. Well, sort of. In some positions of Circular Polarizing Filter it doesn’t reduce reflections but only some of the surrounding light. This has the effect of reflections standing out more. So although you don’t directly increase reflections, you make them apparently stronger.
  5. One of the best ways to use reflections is to create symmetry in the image. This works especially great with the scene that is already symmetrical.
  6. If there are ripples in the water surface as you take photos, make sure to use neutral density filter (or Circular Polarizer as it also stops some light) so you can use longer exposures. With longer exposures the reflections won’t be as crisp and clear but you will avoid ugly and distracting ripples. I used neutral density filter (ND8) in the image below. Due to light wind water surface was full of very small waves. I decided to smooth them using long exposure.
  7. One of the most amazing ways of capturing reflections in the city is by shooting during rain in the night or shortly afterwards. Wet streets and pavements reflect all the lights. This often results in very vibrant scenes with a lot of depth
  8. Make sure that during post-processing you don’t make reflections too bright. Normally reflections are about 1 stop darker than the reflected scene and it is good to keep that in mind. If you make them as bright as the reflected scene the result will be unrealistic.
  9. When you use deghosting in your HDR workflow make sure to apply deghosting both to the scene itself and its reflection. If you forget about fixing ghost artifacts in the reflection or fix them differently than in the scene, the result would look very strange. Similarly if you use clone tool (or healing tool) on the scene, remember to do the same with the reflection.
  10. One of the easiest ways of boosting the reflections in post-processing is to increase Contrast and Blacks settings for them in Lightroom or in Adobe Camera RAW.

Article written by Wojciech Toman

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