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How To Shoot Reflections

How to Shoot Reflections

In a Jay Maisel photo workshop in the early 1990’s, Jay taught us to look beyond the obvious. Instead of focusing your eye on the obvious shot, also look behind you. Often it’s the better image or one you hadn’t thought of.

Reflections are not the obvious shot. Once at Mt Rainier National Park I was crouched down low focusing on a puddle reflection of Mt Rainier. Another photographer walked by and was perplexed why I was shooting a puddle instead of the obvious huge mountain vista above the parking lot.

Fall colors in Seattle’s Arboretum, 2007

When I’m on the ferries crossing Puget Sound, I’ve found epic reflection shots of the Seattle skyline and Olympic Mountains reflected in porthole windows or in the round shaped glass canopy over the upper deck seating.

Often in shooting reflections I’m facing the opposite direction than others taking photos around me. I’m may be shooting the same thing they are, but instead a reflection of their view and sometimes, their reflected outlines of the people lined up looking at the scene behind me.

Technical Challenges of Reflections

Learning how to shoot reflections will open up more possibilities but also add some technical challenges which will ultimately makes you a better, more aware photographer. For example decluttering the frame from unwanted shapes and lines can be a challenge.

but also means some technical challenges which ultimately makes you a better, more aware photographer. For example decluttering the frame from unwanted shapes and lines can be a challenge.

San Juan Islands ferry, 2019

For example, if I’m shooting a reflection in a window, I’m making sure whatever is through the window isn’t further complicating my scene with unnecessary shapes or lines.

And eliminating any unnecessary shapes or lines behind me reflecting in the reflection. On the ferry, with the boat moving, the scene is constantly changing and shaping – like shooting stills of a video!

Video Reflections

If you’re shooting a reflection in video, you need to take extra caution to make sure your frame is free of clutter that may enter the scene, and be prepared for the light, shapes and reflection itself changing or even going away.

Sometimes with shooting video, I can time when the reflection will be the best, or just shoot a long take and edit out the best parts.

More Surprises!

And video reflections can send you a surprise with a new perspective you hadn’t planned for unraveling in the window or other reflective surface in front of you.

Landscape reflected in rear windshield of car, Las Truchas, New Mexico, USA

Recently, I was shooting a video of fall colors reflected in a puddle along the Spruce Railroad Trail in Olympic National Park. Suddenly a water droplet fell into the puddle from a tree above! The droplet created water rings that spread throughout the puddle thus distorting the leaves and trees in the reflection. Then the water calmed again.

Controversial Reflections

An awkward moment once included shooting a car window reflection only to find out there was a person on the other side looking at me.

Another time, I shot a cool interior multi-reflection through several windows of my doctor’s office. When finished, I walked out towards the street and suddenly a yelling concerned office worker run after me asking why I was shooting his office!

Where to Find Reflections

Reflections are more common than you’d think. Start looking at windows, puddles, lakes and other bodies of water, reflective surfaces like a fiberglass boat hull, a metal door, car exteriors, sunglass lenses and even your phone or Apple watch screen!

Dusk on Puget Sound

Play with different angled surfaces. For example, car windshields create a reflection that stretches a scene so it’s wider on top. Walk or move around the reflection to find the best shot. Think about things on your dash that could help or distract from the shot.

Exposing for Reflections

Many reflections suck up light, meaning you need to add more light and/or a wider shutter to get a proper exposure. Shoot a range of exposures if you can to get the right one. Video is more difficult as the scene is changing so you have to predetermine how the scene and exposure will develop.

But sometimes if you’re shooting weird fine art style images like I often do, going darker or brighter works! Or in fix it in post!

Olympic Mountains from reflection in Visitors Center of Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, WA USA

Nature photographers may add a ND filter (neutral density) or ND Grad filter (gradation) to darken the top or bottom of the reflection.

Using Flash in Reflections

If you’re using a flash on your camera (or off-camera) aim it at a 45 degree angle to the surface plane to avoid seeing it in the reflection. Or include it as an element in the image!

You can also flash the subject being reflected to lighten it up in your image, or change its shape or shadow detail.

Wrapping Up..

Reflections can get addictive once you start seeing them. It’ll change the way you see thus opening up new possibilities and giving you a wider range of options to work with. And as mentioned above, shooting reflections will improve your technical and composition skills.

Selfie, Spokane, WA 2019

Like anything, we willing to fail and learn from your mistakes! Getting that perfect shot can be difficult if I’m struggling to find an image free of obstructions or unwanted reflections, glare or framing issues. I’ll shoot several frames until I get the best shot. Sometimes there’s not a solution and I move on to the next shot!

Photo Blooper – I didn’t quite get out of the shot enough (see left frame)
(C) 2019 Rob Casey

The above shot was on the Bainbridge Ferry as it was leaving Seattle. You gotta work quick as the ferry is pulling away and the scene is changing every second! The next image is about mid-Puget Sound..

Seattle Skyline reflection
(C) 2019 Rob Casey
And a score on this Space Needle Seattle shot! I’ve missed quite a few.
(C) 2018 Rob Casey

Persistence is key! I take this ferry a lot so I’m usually on the upper deck in all weather conditions trying for shots in these portholes or other parts of the boat.

Equipment I Use

Canon 5d Mark 2 with a Tamron 17-35mm and Canon 100-200mm

And iPhone 7. Then post in Lightroom and Photoshop.

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