Reflections off the surface of water or ice can add an interesting element to landscape photography. With this in mind, here are five unique ways to shoot landscape reflections.
1. Still Reflection
The wind has everything to do with how reflections look. On a calm day with no wind, you can capture a perfect mirror image of what’s on the ground reflected in the water. This is when you would avoid the rule of thirds and place the horizon in the middle to create symmetry. One way to make your image pop is to wait for the sunset hours, when part of the scene is “glowing” in the warm light, such as mountain peaks and tips of a tree line. A reflected image in the water like this, particularly if captured with all the colors of fall, will instantly set your image apart from others.
2. Rippled Reflection
If you set out to shoot still water reflections and there happens to be wind, by all means go home and come back another day. Otherwise, rippled reflections can be as interesting to shoot, offering a surreal, distorted image. In fact, I sometimes throw rocks into the water just to stir things up, and it usually creates something quite unique. The same thing happens when it’s drizzling and you really can get amazing images from it. Just make sure you have an umbrella or a specially made wrap for your camera to keep it safe from water damage (or a waterproof camera!).
3. Misty Reflection
During the blue hour just after sunset, long exposures are required due to low light. Because the aperture stays open longer, the movement of water is “piled up,” creating a smooth, milky, almost foggy reflection. It’s important that you don’t overexpose the water because you still want to keep some texture instead of a big blob of … stuff. You’ll be able to figure out the proper shutter speed after taking a few test shots.
4. Abstract Reflection
While taking a wide shot of the landscape, look closer at the reflection itself, and you may find abstract elements worth photographing. The rippling reflection of autumn foliage resembles an impressionist painting as do colorful city lights bouncing and moving around with the water. Of course, you will need a lens with focal length of 50mm and greater.
5. Puddle Reflection
Reflection off of puddles in the street might result in interesting photographs as well. After a rain, you can actively look for puddles. Depending on the angle, you’ll see a reflection of yourself, trees, or part of a building. For inspiration, check out French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s puddle reflection of a man leaping forward in the street.
Understanding the different types of reflection will help determine what photography equipment to use. Puddle reflection has a candid aspect to it, more like random snapshots, so a tripod is optional. For all other types of landscape reflection images, you should use a tripod. A polarizing filter can be used to reduce glare when shooting water surface. A neutral density filter (ND) is often used at dusk or dawn to slow down the exposure time, achieving a milky, misty reflected look.
If you’re intrigued by these ideas, perhaps you’ll make reflection images your next landscape photography project.