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.