The Drama and Magic of Reflections

A visual phenomenon with an affinity for the camera, reflections provide a wealth of photographic opportunities. The particular way in which a camera sees the world – that is, constrained in a frame, and limited in depth of field – works really well with the upside-down, inside-out world of the reflection. Let the image take the lead. Some of the most expressive examples of reflections are observed on still water, where they produce striking symmetrical effects.

One day, on a shoot for ‘How to Photograph Absolutely Everything’ I was messing about at the Mirror Pool in the New York Botanical Gardens (which, if you’ve not been to, is well worth a visit at any time, in any weather).

First I investigate the way the reflection changes its shape as I change my position – both from side to side and up and down. Here, I’m looking for a strong shape to emerge. These simply show the scene visible by looking up, but with rippled distortions.

reflection 1 reflection 2

The shape and implied movements in any reflected element appears strengthened – it is, effectively, doubled – by its reflection if you include the subject being reflected. This is looking more promising, but lacks strength in the composition – besides not being exactly level.

water reflection

For settings, the best is the widest-angle you can get on your camera, aperture-priority with the smallest aperture e.g. f/11 and of course best quality/highest resolution. I found the best reflection to be right down at water level, because it is along the water line that you can get an almost perfectly symmetrical view. Try turning your camera upside down to bring the lens closer to the water. Take lots of care not to drop it, though!

water reflection 4

This was one of the rare occasions I review the shot as I’m working. Those who have been on my workshops know that one of my first exercises is not to review the images during shooting. Anyway, because I couldn’t see exactly how well the image was framed, I did review. The subject stayed put anyway, so I could reframe and refine the composition. Here I’ve cropped it to a HDTV format, or near, and centered the crop so the lovely symmetry is obvious.

reflection 5

Then I discovered something rather interesting because it was unexpected: the shot is easier to get with a small point-and-shoot than with a big shooter: the little Kodak camera I was using (as seen in the book) was so compact, I could bring the lens down almost to touch the water. With a bigger camera, the lens axis is still some way above the water when the bottom of the body touches the water.

Here’s the view using my big camera, with a 12mm focal lens setting. It shows that you can take in too much and a narrower view is not quite right either. So, for this shot, a camera one twentieth the cost of my best camera is actually the better!

reflection 6

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Jeremy Washington

June 11, 2008 @ 6:50 am

Great info., really liked the pictures and i hope to see more of your work. thanks for the post and keep up the good work.


Richard Glaser

July 4, 2008 @ 11:24 am

Thanks Tom, I like the composition in the way it draws the eye into the right side and leads you further into the image, all along comparing the real to the reflection. It’s nice to see you using simple equipment to get complicated results.

BTW, really enjoy ‘Master Class’.




June 8, 2008 @ 4:12 am

This is a very good effect that help’s give a doubled reflections.
this is also in photoshop "sc3" filter called "Zig Zag".
Nice work by the way ^.^



July 22, 2008 @ 1:22 am

Good effect! I hope to see more. Keep good work!



December 3, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

Outstanding work. I do love symmetry of reflections, especially some night shots I have seen.

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