The Use of Reflections in Your Photography

I love using reflections for my landscape photography. A nice sunrise or sunset with a reflection of the colored sky in a pond or lake is very rewarding. But you can find reflections everywhere. I tell you about it in this article.

I think every landscape photographer has captured a nice sunset or sunrise together with its reflection at least once. The results are rewarding, especially when there are wonderful colors in the sky. Sometimes, the lake or pond works almost as a perfect mirror, making it possible to flip the image without anyone noticing it.

These clouds during evening twilight are reflecting almost perfectly.

A reflection is always a bit darker compared to the sky. After all, it is reflecting the existing light, and some of that light gets lost in the way. This might not be the scientific explanation, but that’s not important. We often tend to reduce the brightness of the sky to match the tone of the reflection or vice versa, for that matter. As long as it is aesthetically pleasing, that's okay. You just have to be careful not to make the reflection much brighter than the source of the light. At that point, it gets unrealistic.

I took this image by holding the camera a few centimeters above the water surface. 

Reflections are not limited to a lake or other large surface of water. You can find reflections in a lot of situations. Besides water, I have found reflections in glass, metal, windows, wet surfaces, and mirrors, of course. Sometimes, reflections can be found in the most unexpected places.

That is why I decided to write this article for your inspiration, I hope. Perhaps you will be inspired to use reflections even when you didn’t expect one to be present. Some of these may sound logical or familiar, but I hope I have listed at least one that you never looked at.

Just a rain puddle can be enough. For this one, the camera was lying on the ground, just a centimeter from the water. I only needed to correct the crooked horizon line.

Lakes and Other Large Water Surfaces

This is the obvious one, and I already mentioned this at the start of this article. A calm water surface works best, reflecting the world above it almost perfectly. If the water gets ripples, the reflection will be distorted. More movement means a less recognizable reflection until the point is reached when it is only reflecting light and color. You probably have seen this at sea during sunset, when there is no clear reflection of the sun itself, only a distorted light column.

Just find a reasonably calm water surface and try out different heights for the best possible result. I have found a very low position above the water works very well.

A pond with a perfect reflection. There is no wind and there are no ripples in the water.

Mirrors

A mirror is also obvious. We use a mirror to look at ourselves, and that is one of the moments you can use to photograph people in a creative way. I use it a lot during wedding, and I find it very rewarding. Just be careful not to capture the reflection of yourself. It happens very easily, and you will only notice it afterwards when you are culling through the results.

Two mirrors are used for this image: the big hairdresser's mirror on the wall and the small one in the bride's hand.

Windows

A window is used to look through. But you may have noticed how you can see yourself in the window when the other side is much darker. It works like a mirror. This way, a window can reflect your subject if you shoot from a flat angle. It is possible to eliminate the ability to see through it. The steeper the angle becomes, the easier it is to see objects shining through the window. 

With a very flat angle, I was able to transform this window into a mirror.

Glass

Although a window is also made of glass, a glass surface doesn’t have to be a window. I always keep an eye out for glass balustrades or wall coverings when photographing people. I love how these can add to the overall feeling of the image. Glass is very reflective, especially from a flat angle, as I was mentioning before. But again, just be careful not to capture yourself in the frame when shooting almost straight at such a surface.

A glass balustrade was enough for this reflection. At the right side of the image, the glass is transparent; in the middle of the image, it's reflective. It all comes down to the viewing angle.

Metal and Plastics

Metal comes in many different forms, as does plastic. Both can be used to reflect your subject. Laminated cardboard works well also. If you think what kind of metal or plastic surfaces can be used, just think of reflections in cars. When photographing cars, these reflections are often reduced as much as possible. Just remember these reflections can also be used to your benefit. 

The metal hood of this car worked as a mirror. 

Rain Puddles

When it's a rainy day, just look at the streets and see the rain puddles form. These can act like little mirrors that you can use in many creative ways. Small and isolated puddles can used as windows on the pavement that show the world above it. But a larger puddle can also act like a small pond. After or during rainfall, it is possible to find reflections in the most unexpected places. These reflections will also work very well at night. Just try it out.

Rain puddles are amazing for reflection, especially at night with the streetlights.

I’ve had situations where a puddle of one square meter looked like a enormous water surface, which surprised the bridal couple. They saw me lying down next to that small puddle, but never could have guessed it would look like a lake. That's how a puddle can be transformed just by shooting from a very low angle.

If you don’t have a rain puddle available, you can make your own. Just bring your own bottle of water with you. Pour it down on a flat surface, and you can create your own puddle for a reflection.

A Smartphone or iPad

Do you have a smartphone? I bet you do. Just remove any fingerprints from its surface and make sure it is showing a blank screen. Better still, turn it off for a moment. This way you can use it as a black mirror. I sometimes use it for shooting wedding rings. The workable surface becomes even larger if you have an iPad to your disposal.

I used a smartphone as a dark reflective surface. It works very well.

Have you ever thought of showing a picture on the smartphone or IPad while using it as a mirror? It can be fun to do so — not every time, but once in a while. But that counts for everything, doesn’t it?

Remove Reflections

If you hate reflections or if they work against you, just try to get rid of them. Look out for another composition without the reflection. Or you can use a polarizing filter to reduce the reflection. The amount of reduction depends on the angle of the light that is reflected. If the angle is correct, the reflection will be removed completely.

Just remember, using reflections is fun to do. Don’t use them every single time. After a while, it becomes just another trick that loses its attraction. But then again, there are so many ways of using reflections, it may never get boring.

Do you use reflections in your photography? Please share your thoughts and perhaps even examples in the comments below. I am looking forward to reading your ideas about it.

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16 Comments

Matthew Lacy's picture

I've messed around with reflections in photography in the past, but by and large I'm not had a lot of success. The only picture that ended up with a particularly good one was the following. I entered it into a county level photography contest and had only the following as feedback: "The reflection could have been better exposed". I suppose the judge was looking for a perfect exposure match between top and bottom, but I didn't deliver. On the whole I'm actually still satisfied with the result, such as it is.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

I think it's a nice image although the reflection indeed doesn't stand out very much. Perhaps that could be brightened up a bit in post processing, with a bit of contrast enhancement on the water too -- but that might quickly start to look artificial.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I think Tim van der Leeuw is correct. The image could be a stop brighter also.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

Here's a photo that I shot with my phone a few years ago, that uses reflections (the first of the now 3 photos)

I also like sometimes to include reflections in night-shots, and of course in general in shots with water, I will try to make sure the reflections form a nice part of the image. :)

Sometimes, you can also get very nice reflections in ice.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Thanks for sharing

Stuart C's picture

I love reflections, I think skilled street photographers who use them for images are brilliant. As a Landscape Photographer im always hopeful of calm waters in order to see some. Below are a few of my favourites.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

Beautiful shots with gorgeous skies!

Stuart C's picture

Thanks Tim, fortunately the UK has lots of changeable weather so it’s fairly easy to capture some drama:)

Nando Harmsen's picture

I like the second one a lot

Stuart C's picture

Thanks Nando, funnily enough it’s my all time favourite shot from my own collection. The first time I shared it online it got pretty much no interaction, so after a discussion with some fellow photographers we decided to repost some shots we thought should have been more popular, anyway 2nd time around it’s been well received.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Funny how that sort of thing works. Often it is more about being a well known photographer instead of quality of the image. Glad to hear it was well received the second time. Well done

Chris Fowler's picture

I always love reflections in sunset pictures and other landscape pictures, but sometimes (most times lol) the weather does not cooperate. This one was a lucky shot I took in Japan while elbow to elbow with other tourists pre-covid.

Cesar D's picture

I follow this website but never comment. I just opened the account to say...

THANK YOU FOR AN ARTICLE! Too many YouTube links here...

Nando Harmsen's picture

Thank you

Matthew Lacy's picture

I just did this one, which was the first time I've used reflections in my abstract work. The reflection was produced by a local lake.

https://fstoppers.com/photo/572421

Nando Harmsen's picture

Beautiful