Reflections Skills

Reflection Photography Techniques

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People love reflection photos, so let’s give you some great reflection photography techniques you can use to bring home a winner!

Humans are drawn to symmetry.  There is an good article on symmetry by David Roos.  In the article he makes this statement: “Symmetrical objects and images play by the rules that our brains are programmed to recognize easily”

Hence, we are also drawn to reflections because of the symmetrical nature of the reflected image.

The following tips, guides and suggestions are intended to help you go get those wonderful reflection images that people so love.

Reflection Photography Techniques – Hunting for the right

You may have heard the phrase “Location, Location, Location” before. When it comes to hunting for reflections to photograph, its right on the mark.  I would add that timing is also equally important.

From a location perspective, of course you are looking for still water.

You also need something interesting to be reflecting in that water, so choosing a location with great background objects is very important.  Trees, Buildings, Cloudy Sky, Wildlife, Bridges, etc. are all examples of things that make good reflection objects.

Weather and lighting are also very important

From a timing perspective, what you want is the right weather and light.   Too much wind and the water surface likely won’t be very reflective.  Sun in the wrong location could be a problem creating unwanted shadows or glare.  Is the sky overcast, or is it clear as a bell?   Are there nice puffy white clouds?  Rain can either ruin a reflection or make it really interesting.  Sometimes you need to experiment.

The main points are:

  • Location
  • Background
  • Weather

I use Google maps and look for bodies of water first, then I look at the surrounding terrain and objects.  Sometimes through pure serendipity a scene presents itself, like this image I shot on my iPhone from an office window where I was meeting with someone:

Reflections photo

Lexar Professional 128GB SD Card

DJI Mavic Air 2 – Drone with 48MP Camera – JPG & RAW images

Manfrotto Compact Light Aluminum 4-Section Tripod Kit with Ball Head

LimoStudio 660W Lighting Kit

Shooting your reflection photos

getting the shot is key to these reflection photography techniques.  The first thing I do when arriving at a potential location is just take a general look around.  Check out what’s in the background, the foreground, the lighting, the possible angles, etc.

You are looking for the best framing and angles that highlight the reflections you re after.

I always take a tripod with me but often I don’t use it.  Better to be prepared just in case.   I always use a lens hood, even when the sun is behind me or on overcast days.   The last thing you want is your awesome shot ruined by glare or bad light balance.  I would also highly suggest a good quality circular polarizer to reduce light glare.

You should shoot in aperture priority mode, with an aperture of between F8 and F11.  This helps ensure good depth of focus and also many lenses are sharpest in the middle of their range.

I also use exposure bracketing, usually 3 images with 1 stop of exposure compensation between the shots and shooting order of -1, 0 +1, to ensure I have a lot of options to work with.

Make sure you capture the moment

Make sure to take several shots in different locations, zoom settings and compositions.  Its not overkill, pick out the images that captured the scene the way you saw it when you were there.

Also don’t forget about panoramas!  If a scene is open, I always take several shots holding my camera vertical and sweeping left to right, and then stitching them together in post-production.  Those panoramas are usually very popular when they come out right!

Utilizing these reflection photography techniques will help you grab those awesome shots like the one below.

Post processing your image

Reflection images can be a bit of a challenge to balance.  In order to get good definition in the shadows, on the water and inside foliage, you need a higher exposure.  That often leads to blowing out the sky detail and/or the highlights.   This is why I use exposure bracketing.   This allows me to blend a couple of exposures to improve the dynamic range of the image.

Exposure blending is beyond the scope of this blog post, but I am working on a tutorial regarding this topic which I will be posting soon  (link to go here).  Still shooting with exposure bracketing will give you multiple exposures to choose from later.

Don’t over-do it

Be careful with too much sharpening and saturation, as they can quickly ruin the balance of the primary as well as the reflected details.  I have been known to sharpen a separate layer and mask in areas I want sharpened more rather than over sharpen the entire image.   Same thing with saturation.  If you want a certain color detail to pop, saturate a separate layer and mask it in.

The best tip I can give for editing reflection images is to do very light dodging in the shadow areas on the water surface to bring out the reflected image details

Well that’s it for now. 

Let’s get out there and use these reflections photography techniques to shoot some reflections!  Happy hunting and bring home a winner…

– Loyd


Images in this post provided by Loyd Towe Photography

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If you have any questions, comments, praise or other information to share, feel free to put it in the comments section below.  I’d love to read what you are thinking, what issues you are having, what topics you want to see covered or corrections that are needed.  Your input is valuable in helping me to help you and others learn and improve this thing we call photography.

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