Image by Patrick Koetzle
What are reflection photographs?
Reflection photos refer to any shot, no matter what type of photography genre, that uses a reflective surface. Landscape photography, with a mountain duplicated in the still water of a lake, is reflection photography. An image of a city captured on the shiny surface of a skyscraper is a reflection shot, as is that same city skyline captured in a puddle on a sidewalk. Even a self-portrait snapped in a store window is a type of reflective photography.
“Reflection photography really is about the ability to look at an image in a different way,” photographer Patrick Koetzle says. “Seeing a reflection in the water appeals to me. It pulls me in. It makes me see this beautiful image twice.”
Learn more about how to get good reflection photos so you can turn the world upside down with your work.
Need-to-know tips about outdoor reflection photos.
It can be a lot of work to line up the right angle on a building or mountain that reflects off a certain body of water. You can save yourself time and hassle with a little research.
Image by Patrick Koetzle
Camera settings and gear to help you capture mirror images.
Focal length and aperture
The focal lengths of different lenses will partially determine what is possible in your reflection photography. A wide-angle lens with a shorter focal length can capture a larger scene, like a mountain and its reflection. A longer focal length, like on a telephoto lens, is better suited to focusing on just the reflection.
Larger apertures produce a narrow depth of field, which means they are ideal for a blurred background effect like bokeh. If you want to capture a reflected portrait of a subject, wide apertures are where you’ll want to shoot. Smaller apertures bring more of the scene into focus and are good if you want to capture a subject and its reflection.
Circular polarizers and neutral density filters
You can attach both of these filters to a lens to reduce the amount of light that enters your camera. Neutral density (ND) filters are like sunglasses for your lens. They filter out bright light, so you can capture reflection photos when the sun is higher in the sky. Circular polarizers remove or lessen light that reflects off surfaces like water. If you use one for reflection photography, it can reduce glare so you can capture more detail in your reflective shots.
Get creative with reflection shots.
While the symmetry of a mountain perfectly reflected in a lake may be a beautiful photo, don’t hesitate to explore other types of reflective shots.
“Think outside the box in terms of adding a bit of realism to the photo,” Grobmeier suggests. “You can disrupt the surface by throwing a rock into the water. It breaks the image real quick, but you still have the reflection.” Put a leaf in the middle of a puddle. Play around, and see what happens.
Let your gear give you options. “Bring a tripod with you,” Grobmeier says. “If you don’t have someone to take a photo of you, you can take a photo of yourself on a timer and add yourself into the reflection to make the photo more fun.”
And, maybe most importantly, don’t hold back. “Go for that artistic shot,” recommends Koetzle. “I think this shot might look awesome. But maybe it doesn’t. Who cares? You might end up with something you didn’t expect.”
Fine-tune your reflective images.
It may take practice to get the hang of reflection photography, and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a great tool to help you organize your attempts on the way to perfection. You can also edit and tweak your images in Lightroom. Adjust Highlights and Shadows, Hue, and Saturation to amplify the effect of your reflective shots. When you land on edits you love, save them as a Lightroom preset to create your own filter-like adjustments you can use again and again.
If you have trouble with the perfect reflection shot, you can always turn to Adobe Photoshop to help. For example, you can create an HDR image that combines two photos. Take a shot of the whole scene as a base. Then, make your focal point the subject beyond the body of water and snap a shot. Finally, change your focus to the reflection and capture that image. You can combine all three in Photoshop to create a well-lit, perfectly focused scene.
Keep your eye out for a good reflection, capture it as best as you can in-camera, and you can always edit to your heart’s content afterward. Practice reflection photography skills in-camera and in post-production, and your path to brilliant reflective shots will be crystal clear.
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