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Photograph a reproduction of your reality with reflections

Added on Monday 9th of January 2012 08:43 am EST

by Stephen Dow



Operating System:


Although reflections can be distracting in a photograph, they also can add visual interest to your images. To help you make the most of the reflections you find in your scenes, we’ll demonstrate how to incorporate them in a way that complements your subjects.

To help you take advantage of the reflections in your photos, we’ll:

•     Show you the best way to capture reflections and the reflective surfaces that produce them.

•     Define reflections and discuss what you’ll need to consider when photographing them.

•     Give you some tips for shooting reflections, such as focusing, appropriate focal lengths, and correct exposure.

While some reflections can certainly distract from your central subject, others are so interesting that they can become the subject themselves. Just as avoiding reflections in your digital photography takes some careful shooting, capturing a reflection in pixels also has its own set of techniques. In some ways, it becomes more difficult, as you must not only capture the reflection, but represent the reflective object as well. Photographing reflections can yield some very rewarding images, and digital cameras are perfectly suited to get the job done.

The physics of reflections

Simply put, a reflection is light thrown back from a surface. The quality of the reflection depends on the strength of the light source (called incident light), the smoothness of the reflective surface, and the strength of the reflected light. Essentially, strong light sources that bounce off smooth surfaces produce good reflections, while rougher surfaces produce more diffuse reflections. Of course, a perfect mirror image isn’t always the goal, as the abstraction that a weaker light source or rough reflective surface adds to the reflection is often more interesting than the original scene.

Planning a reflective shot

When considering capturing a reflection, you should first think about what the central subject of your photograph is. Is it the reflection or the reflective object you’re after? As we’ll explain later, your choice not only affects how you frame your image and focus your camera, but it can be the difference between an everyday image and an exceptional one.

For example, consider the image in Figure A. While we usually avoid printing our less-than-successful images, this one offers a good lesson on shooting reflections. There were two ways to approach this shot, by focusing on the reflection of a carousel on the glass or on the people eating in the 50’s style diner behind the glass. Either way, it would have been an interesting image, but instead, we tried to capture both the reflection and the people behind the glass as one image.

The result is utter confusion, as there’s no clear subject and the reflection becomes more of a distraction than a visual feature. When framing your shot, simplify your image as much as possible and make sure your central subject stands out. Look at the reflection and the reflective object carefully and decide which one interests you the most, and then adjust your digital camera to get the shot, as we’ll explain later in this article.




Finding good reflective surfaces

You can find reflections pretty much anywhere you look. As we mentioned in our example, glass is a very reflective surface, as, quite obviously, are most mirrored surfaces. Shiny metals such as aluminum and chrome make for excellent reflectors, as does any object painted with a glossy finish. Perhaps the most dynamic of reflective surfaces is water, which can create interesting reflections, as shown in Figure B. Water can also create vast areas of reflection, such as a landscape mirrored upon a lake or the image of a city street projected into a puddle. As long as the water is fairly calm, it should provide an excellent reflective surface. Even slightly moving water can provide a good reflective surface, causing the r...


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