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How To Photograph Reflections In Water

In Nature reflections are everywhere, in lakes, rivers, ponds and other water bodies etc. one could even find reflections in a small puddle of water. Reflections help add powerful emotions and thus create visually interesting images.  Subjects like colourful autumn foliage in trees, mountains, buildings, harbor and boats etc are all subjects that make great reflections.

How To Photograph Reflections In Water
Photo by: Morbcn

There are many types of reflections and many different ways of capturing them; in this article we will discuss how best to capture the beauty of reflections in photographs.

Photographing reflections could be quite simple and anyone with a basic understanding of the fundamentals of photography could create stunning images by following a few simple rules which we are going to discuss here.

1. Best Time of the Day to Shoot Reflections

How To Photograph Reflections In Water
Photo by: Jeff S Photo Art

Early morning is the best time to shoot reflections in water. One big advantage of shooting in early hours is that there will be very little wind and the water will be usually very still during those times.

2. Best Shooting Conditions for Water Reflections

dslr reflection photography tips
Photo by: Trey Ratcliff

Overcast days are the best to shoot reflections in water, best case scenario is when you subject is illuminated by the sun’s light and the water in front of you is still in shade, such conditions produce very dramatic images.

3. Place the Sun at Your Back

This is the most important tip to remember while shooting reflections in water, always place the sun at your back, else you will end up with very dark reflections.

4. Workflow

tips for photographing reflections in water
Photo by: Jeff S Photo Art

Arrive early (before sunrise) at the scene you wish to shoot, this will give you plenty of time to plan and setup your shot. Use a compass to find out where is East (most smart phones have one) this will give you a general idea of where the sun is going to show up. Now face west and look for some interesting subjects with a water body in front of it. once you find your subject, decide on the composition and set up your shot, now all you need to do is wait for the sun to come up, when the golden rays of the rising sun hit the subject it will produce highly saturated reflections in the water which is still in shade. Shoot fast as the light changes very fast.

5. Where to Place the Horizon for Maximum Effect.

You have lot of options as to where to place the horizon in your shots, but there are three options that work well.

  1. Placing the horizon line in the upper third of the image helps give more emphasis to the reflection and thus draw the viewer’s eyes directly to it.
  2. Placing the horizon line in the center of the image gives equal importance to the scene and the reflection.
  3. Photograph only the reflection; here the horizon line is not included in the picture and the entire frame is comprised of the reflection.

photography water reflection
Photo by: Denis Collette

6. Make sure Horizons are Level

In the previous tip we discussed three different options of placing the horizon in your compositions but this tip is more important. No matter where you place your horizon make sure it is level, if your camera has a built in level use it, if not use a bubble level to make sure you have in right in camera.

7. Focus on the reflection.

how to capture reflections in water
Photo by: Denis Collette

Manual focus works well while shooting reflections; shift your lens to manual focus and focus on the reflection to make sure they are in sharp focus.

8. Use Large Depth of Field

reflection photography tips
Photo by: Jeff S Photo Art

Use a narrow aperture (f/11 or narrower) to make sure you have both the reflections and also the main subject reasonably sharp.

9. Even our Light Levels Using Graduated Neutral Density Filter

reflection pictures
Photo by: Stuart Williams

One problem photographer’s face when trying to photograph reflections in water is the difference in brightness levels of the scene. Usually the subject is much brighter than the water and this causes certain issues. If we try to expose for the main subject then reflections turn out very dark and if we try to expose for the reflections then main subject becomes over exposed. The solution to this issue is to use a graduated neutral density filter, make sure you align the dark part of the filter with your subject and the clear part over the reflection.

10. Controlling Glare Using Polarizing Filter

reflection photography ideas
Photo by: Morbcn

If you have a circular polarizing filter it could be come in handy to control the glare from the water’s surface thereby enhancing some reflections. Rotate the filter to see its effect on the scene, also try taking it off, some scenes are better off without it.

11. Shoot From Low Angle

how to shoot water reflections landscape
Photo by: Chris Gin

The lower the angle you shoot from the greater the reflection you will see. A tripod without a center column will come in handy to set the camera close to the ground.

12. Use Live View

Reflections in water are a good candidate for using the live view function of your DSLR camera.

13. Use Depth of Field Preview Button

Use the depth of field preview button to stop down your lens to the set aperture and check the depth of field available for the set aperture. Alternatively you could take a picture and review it in your LCD display on the back of your DSLR camera; this has the added advantage of being able to zoom in to check minute details for sharpness.

14. Ripples in Waters Surface

how to take photos of reflections
Photo by: Lisa

Small ripples on the water’s surface could produce some interesting results, the reflections will appear slightly blurred but this adds character to certain scenes. Usually an hour or so after sunrise you’ll sense the wind picking up and causing ripples on the water’s surface. Or you could create your own concentric pattern of ripples using a stick or your feet or if you need it certain distance away, simply toss a stone into the water. The ripples break up the reflections adding a sense of intrigue to the picture.

15. Capture a Panoramic Shot of Water Reflection

tips for shooting panoramic water reflections
Photo by: Chris Gin

The 3:2 image format of the DSLR camera may not be the best when it comes to shooting landscapes with reflections, something like 3:1 or even 5:1 would be much better. Try stitching multiple shots taken with a slight overlap in Photoshop or simply create a Crop Panorama.  

16. Try Inverting Your Picture

Some shots could be made interesting just by inverting it (flipping upside down) in Photoshop.

Related Reading

  1. How to Photograph the Milky Way in Ten Easy Steps
  2. Forest Photography Tips
  3. Composition Tips for Photographing Waterfalls
  4. 20 Common Mistakes Beginners Make in Landscape Photography and How to Avoid Them
  5. 22 Tips for Photographing Stunning Seascapes

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