Few compositional elements bring a smile to a landscape photographer’s face than a well-placed reflection. Reflections generally signal other favorable conditions are present for impactful images. Conditions such as mist and low winds generally help create sharp reflections. Mornings offer the best opportunity to find crisp reflections. The presence of a reflection increases the compositional impact to an otherwise pedestrian composition and increasing compositional opportunities tenfold. While the opportunities are endless, you will need to maximize your efforts to bring more impactful images. Like any other compositional element, it needs to be appropriate to the subject matter. Just because a reflection is present does not guarantee a winning image.
A reflection is much more than just reflected light. A rainbow is reflected light, but it’s not a reflection (in a traditional sense). Adding a reflection to an image helps weave the abstract with reality. In addition to all the compositional opportunities available, reflections also allow you to break some of the most basic rules. Generally, splitting an image directly down the middle is a compositional no-no; however, a reflection, especially a mirrored image, requires such a composition. The “mirrored” image helps create symmetry that adds a sense of tranquility. Reflections often create leading lines and help to form boundaries that separate what’s real and not. Reflections help tell the truth by showing the world around you.
While the presence of a reflection is a welcome addition to a compositional tool-set, it still will need some thought and planning to maximize its impact. Resourceful photographers use several techniques to get the most out of any reflection. Angles are important, and viewing a reflection from every angle is recommended before bringing the camera to the eye and snapping an image. Get low for a more reflective surface and high for less. Use your judgment as to which brings more balance. Tailor your shutter speed to your desired effect. A high shutter speed will help render a sharp reflection minimizing and distorting ripples. A slow shutter speeds a soft abstract reflection.
A Wide angles lens is generally preferred to capture the most reflection and the widest perspective and depth-of-field but don’t rule out using a telephoto lens. Aperture settings between f8 and f11 are used most; be careful about depth-of-field, especially if your reflection comes right up to your lens. You may need to focus stack in this case. Be careful when using a polarizing filter. Polarizing the image will generally remove most of the reflection. If you must use the polarizer because of the included sky, then rotate the filter until you get the best combination of sky polarization and sharp reflection.
Reflections can be found almost anywhere and on any surface. The list is extensive, puddles, lakes, streams, windows, mirrors, ice, brass, chrome, jewelry, eyes, etc. Most importantly, take lots of photos. Reflections are both rare and common and should be used to their fullest, creating impactful images.