Reflections … one of my favourite things to photograph
“Through this photographic eye you will be able to look out on a new light-world, a world for the most part uncharted and unexplored, a world that lies waiting to be discovered and revealed.” Edward Weston
Yesterday in Spain
Last weekend we arrived in southern Spain. We have settled in a little town on the beach for a while. Travelling with my family has turned out to be nothing like what I thought it would be.
I thought that at this point we’d be running through the jungles of Costa Rica or something like that. But my kids have strongly requested that we stay in Europe to be with some other travelling families – and this little area is a total hub for families who are travelling and worldschooling as we are doing.
Apparently I am not totally in charge 🙂 Maybe I’m not in charge at all.
(Worldschooling sounds pretty cool, but it’s just the term for educating your kids while you travel.)
And you’ll probably relate to this: if the kids are happy (and my wife) then I’m happy.
It’s nice to have sunshine and sea air, and I’m looking forward to exploring the beautiful mountain towns and photographing the sea, and whatever cool wonders I can find.
Today I have some good tips and a challenge focused on one of my favourite things to photograph – reflections!
Reflections are everywhere – in bodies of water, on shiny surfaces, in windows. Once you cast your eyes around, they will be everywhere.
Reflections are intriguing to me – they can bring all kinds of interesting feelings and elements into your images; like abstraction, intrigue, mystery and beautiful patterns. Let’s get to it!
Reflections on water
“I love to watch the movement of light on water, and I love to play in rivers and lakes, swimming or canoeing. I am fascinated by people who work with water – fishermen, boatmen – and by a way of life that is dominated by water.” Berlie Doherty
Water changes everything that’s reflected in it and it influences everything that it comes into contact with. And to be surrounded by mist and sea air when taking photos is reviving.
Sometimes reflections can be very straight forward. Still water will be like a mirror and reflect back what is around you in detail.
Tip: I like to find to good clear patch with minimum amounts of things floating in the water in order to enhance the mirror effect. If there is algae or just bits bobbing on the water it can distract attention and that is not what I want. I want all eyes on what I see!
When using compositional tools and techniques like this you have to make them your own. They are a starting point. Then you add your own elements, play around with them, see what else you can do with them.
Here’s one of my ‘morning in the city’ reflections, in Paris.
This is a common type of shot for me, because most major cities – old ones at least – have a river or are set by the ocean. So you’ll see such city scenes reappearing in my work.
Tip: Take advantage of low ambient and use artificial lighting to create depth in your reflections.
What’s wonderful is that at dawn on many rivers you get the opportunity to shoot the water in its stillness, and consequently you get very clear, very sharp reflections.
Now this shot in Venice, below, is a more subtle reflection – the light of pre-dawn and the lovely atmospheric street lamps in this gorgeous city. But to give it a little more dimension, a little more intrigue, look at the reflections. They create a wonderful symmetry.
Can you see how that very still water is like a mirror? How the small reflections give dimension and depth to the image?
I think the very still water immediately gives a sense of quiet and the peace at dawn.
Of course it doesn’t just have to be rivers or sea; rain on roads and surfaces is also very cool.
I also like to use water in a more abstract sense, using its movement and the elements around it to appear more playful.
What does this photo below look like to you? (Lots of bit and bobs on the water on this one!) For me, the water has given this steely, immovable structure a very fun sense of movement. Only water could do that!
The elements here are simple. The colour of the tower is so cold, but in the water it looks joyful almost, surrounded by that deep ocean of blue. It’s a dancing smoke stack!
Now, one of my favourite things to do with calmly rippling water is to use it to capture reflected light off colourful surroundings. It’s become an ongoing project for me – not an original idea but I feel I’m doing some very beautiful stuff. It will be a stunning printed portfolio eventually.
Here are some of my recent favourites:
It’s all about using the water ripples to play with the surrounding colours and create its own shapes and textures.
- Have what you want reflected to be 180 degrees from where you will be taking the shot. This puts the colours on the water.
- Try different levels and angles.
The fun part for me is just looking and looking while moving around until an image strikes me. Boom!
These types of photos usually end up looking like abstract paintings which, I feel, is a true compliment for a photo.
Tip: Use your post-processing skills to play with saturation and contrast to really give them some punch. A bit of clarity is nice too.
Now in this one below, I have used the strong block colours of a nearby building:
You’ll notice the droplets too – I timed the water drop ripples, which was a really great idea. It adds a lot to the photo by breaking up the greater pattern.
In the photograph below we can see light reflected water in a more straightforward way by making it part of a scene:
Can you see here how the pink light really reveals the textures of the water? It’s incredible to see that.
How else would the character and feeling of the water be revealed if not in the reflection?
Remember water is always acting as a dynamic mirror and is in touch with everything around it. It is like it is visually conscious or something. It’s alive!
Now let’s jump over to some other types of reflections.
Reflections in glass
This is a pretty standard reflection. What do you think?
Better with the person?
That adds a little humour to the image, I think. I camped out for 30 minutes waiting for and timing shots, ending up with around 20 interesting ones.
Walking around cities you will find plenty of opportunities to spy some potential shots in panes of glass.
I think they are most interesting when they are at eye level and not up above me, but maybe you feel differently??
Then we have some really clean reflections:
The above photo has very simple, clean elements. A near perfect mirror effect with the added bonus of wavy lines. Woop!
Another one that is all about reflections and shapes. This kind of shot works much better with loads of stormy clouds and dynamic weather. Blue sky just kills this image.
Now for some more abstraction:
I grabbed this shot one morning. It’s a shop window with some kind of window dressing (always makes me think of Mars) and I caught a portrait.
Tip: I had to quickly use manual focus because I didn’t trust my camera not to focus on the window instead of my subject. I really like it due to its abstract nature and that it was not an easy shot to notice.
“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” Picasso
This shot above seems so eerie to me. You aren’t quite sure what it is, until you look much closer.
These abstract images don’t need to make sense, but the elements are somehow working together. There should be some sense, some clarity, to what you are photographing. You don’t want it to be a giant mess.
Reflections to create symmetry
This shot above – a very, very old one of mine – is a typical reflection shot, one where you are shooting the subject straight on and therefore the reflection makes a symmetrical pattern in the water.
Above is a very classic reflection shot. Using water on the street ,would you believe.
The water creates a symmetry with a building that is already dense with patterns. Now, if that band of colourful chairs wasn’t there – and how convenient that they laid them out in first yellow, then purple – this would be a very boring shot.
Don’t you think?
Symmetry and patterns are awesome – but I often like it when there is another element within the images that brings some imperfection, something else, into the image. Makes it all the more human!
And I think we humans like a little imperfection in our world 🙂
Below I am using a very strong, singular element that already has some cool repetitive elements – the lights, the arches – and using the reflection to add more repetition, and therefore more patterns.
I came at this shot above at an angle, not shooting it straight on. I picked my position carefully, usually trying out a few different angles, but this was pretty awesome because it gives a strong line, some pleasing patterns – and it’s not an obvious shot.
Reflections of Light
Light can be reflected onto all kinds of different surfaces. Look at these two – both lights reflected onto a wet pavement. Great effect.
So even when you don’t have a super reflective surface you can still find reflections. In this case – reflected light…and it’s full of colour!
I have featured some of my favourite ways to photograph reflections, but there are many other ways we can use reflections in our images – and I’d love to see yours.
So I am setting another photo challenge for this! And it was awesome seeing so many people’s images in the last challenge. (Plus there is a cool prize for my favourite image.)
At the end of the challenge period I am going to be doing a live webinar all about my favourite images that you submit – plus giving a whole bunch of tips and techniques.
Live webinar: Reflections challenge photo review
Sunday 25th Feb at 6pm GMT
(That’s Greenwich Mean Time. Time Converter here)
The whole point is have some fun, play and enjoy it.
- Enter the challenge here – challenge ends Sunday 25th Feb at 2pm GMT.
- To attend the live webinar on Sunday 25th Feb at 6pm GMT – just hit reply to this email – and we’ll send you log-in details closer to the time.
Have an awesome week and looking forward to seeing your reflection photos!
Any questions hit reply.
Anthony and Diana