Reflections My photos, my words

There’s one thing that will always get my attention whenever I’m carrying my camera while hiking through a nature area or walking around a city.

That’s a scene with a reflection.

I admit it. I’m a sucker for any type of reflections when I’m looking for photo possibilities.

And there are a lot of types of reflections, a lot of surfaces that can create reflections and a lot of ways they can work when creating interesting photographs.

There are reflections in water, which can be still, creating a mirror effect, or rippling, creating a distorted or abstract reflection.

Sunrise reflecting in pool, Westin Diplomat, Hollywood, Fla.

There are reflections in glass, marble or other shiny surfaces. Again, this can create a mirror or abstract effect depending on the amount of distortion created by the surface.

Reflections in glass windows can be particularly interesting because the window can show both the reflected object as well as objects inside the window, creating a dual view — sort of a picture within a picture.

Sunset reflecting in windows of the World Financial Center, New York City.

Marble monuments, like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., can create similar dual views, with reflected objects visible around the details in the marble.

Washington Monument reflecting in Vietnam Memorial wall, Washington, D.C.
Visitors and reflected in the Vietnam Memorial wall, Washington, D.C.

That’s why composition is so important when capturing reflections.

Some reflection photos work best when composed for symmetry, like my photo of the Washington Monument or the photo of hot air balloons reflecting in a pond at night. In those shots, the reflection is integral to the image.

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C.
Glowing hot air balloons reflected in a lake, Grove City, Ohio.

But at times it’s better if the reflection complements the image, playing an important — but secondary — role, like in my photo of geese floating on a pond on a quiet fall morning.

Fall colors reflecting around Canada Geese in lake, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

And sometimes the reflection itself is the subject of the photo, like in my photo of buildings reflected by glass windows in One World Trade Center in New York City or the distorted reflection of buildings in the metal surface of the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Buildings reflected by One World Trade Center, with "ribs" of transportation center in foreground, New York City.
Skyline reflected in the Cloud Gate sculpture on AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, Chicago.

At times it is best to include both the object being reflected and the reflection itself in the photo. This is important in wildlife photos, in my opinion. Just showing the reflection — an upside down bird, for instance — doesn’t hold my attention. The bird and its surroundings reflected by water can be eye catching.

Great Blue Heron standing in wetlands, Stages Pond State Nature Preserve, Ashville, Ohio.

But some scenes are more intriguing if the object being reflected is excluded from the composition. This is especially true when photographing reflections in puddles of water. The contrast between the surface surrounding the puddle and the scene reflected by the puddle can create an interesting visual dynamic.

Buildings reflected by fountain water, Dilworth Park, Philadelphia.

I’ve discussed subjects, surfaces and composition, all important elements of an interesting reflection photograph. But none of those matter if you can’t get your camera to capture the colors and detail that your eye sees — and your mind interprets — through the viewfinder.

That’s where the photo-technical details become important.

As with most photographs, lighting is important when capturing reflections. There must be sufficient lighting on the subject — a building, a group of colorful autumn trees, a heron wading in a wetlands — to enable it to create a well-defined reflection. The lighting is often natural (sunlight), but bright artificial lighting can help create nice reflections in night photos. Without proper lighting the reflection can become an ill-defined shadow.

U.S. Capitol building at night, Washington, D.C.

Proper focus — or more accurately, proper depth of field or depth of focus — is critical. Focusing on the object being reflected or focusing on the surface showing the reflection won’t necessarily guarantee that the important elements in the composition will be sharp. Remember, there are two distances to consider for focus or depth of field: The distance from the camera to the reflective surface and the distance from the reflective surface to the object being reflected.

Older architecture reflected in new, W. 57th Street, New York City.

This may not matter if the object is a heron wading in water because the bird and the reflective surface are within feet of each other. But if the object is a puddle reflecting a building or windows in a glass building reflecting their surroundings, the object and the reflective surface may be hundreds of feet apart. That’s why I “stop down” — reducing the camera’s aperture size by using a higher-numbered f-stop — to increase the depth of field when photographing reflections.

City Hall reflected by fountain water, Dilworth Park, Philadelphia.

Subjects, surfaces, composition, lighting, depth of field … it seems like a lot to remember to get one photograph. But when you know your equipment and take a lot of photos it becomes automatic.

Overcast sky and buildings reflected by the reservoir in Central Park, New York City.
Created By
Pat D. Hemlepp


All photographs and text: © Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp

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