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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

7 tips for great reflection photos

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

A landscape photo of Saunton Sands by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography

1. Find a reflection!

It might sound silly, but it's worth considering when and where the best reflections might be found. It is fairly obvious that a calm lake can provide great reflections, but there are other sources of reflections which are less obvious, such as ponds, canals, the wet sand of a beach at low tide, slow moving rivers, puddles on the street after rain, or even the wing mirrors on a car!

2. Choose the best weather conditions

The best reflection shots can often be shortly after sunrise or before sunset when misty conditions or the colorful clouds can add drama to your reflection. Dusk can also be a great time to take reflection shots in urban locations, so you can get great reflections of urban lights. If taking photos during the daytime, overcast days can often be best as they provide even lighting and dramatic clouds.

Conditions to be generally avoided include rainy days and windy conditions which will ruin any reflections in water. It's also best to try and avoid having the sun in your photo, as the problems you get with high dynamic range (bright to dark) will be doubled with the sun in the sky and it's reflection too!

3. Find the best angle

One of the tips I remember from when I was learning was that if people don't look at you strangely when you're taking photos, then you're not doing it right, by which they meant that you shouldn't take every photo from a normal standing position. This is particularly important for reflections, when getting low or high can significantly change your composition, and to get the best reflection shot you should try all the possible angles until you find the best shot.

4. Ignore the rule of thirds!

The rule of thirds suggests that in a landscape shot the horizon should either be placed on the upper third of the frame, or the lower third. For reflection shots, which are usually symmetrical, this is exactly the time to ignore this rule and put the line of symmetry straight down the middle of the frame.

5. Don't use a Circular Polarising filter! (Pro tip!)

When taking photos of water, it's quite usual to think about using a Circular Polariser (CPL) to reduce glare from the surface. However, if you're hoping to capture a reflection in water, this is absolutely the last thing you should do, since the CPL is likely to reduce the visual impact of the reflection, rather than increase it! So when you're taking reflection shots of water, make sure your CPL stays in your camera bag.

6. Try a long shutter speed (Pro tip!)

The best reflections are in completely still water which occur on windless days. However, if you're taking reflection shots in non-perfect conditions you're likely to have some ripples on the water that can ruin your mirror reflections. One way to enhance your water reflections in these conditions is to use a longer shutter speed of a few seconds to smooth the ripples, using a low strength Neutral Density (ND) filter to extend your shutter speed. The strength of ND you will need will depend on the amount of light (a stronger ND on a sunnier day) and the aperture and ISO that you use.

7. Make sure you have a strong focal point

Although mirror reflections can look great, it's important not to forget the basics of good composition, such as having a focal point. A good example is the reflection shot below, taken on a wet beach. Although a shot of the beautiful reflection of the clouds in the wet beach would look great, having a person in the distance provides a focal point, as well as the size of the person helping to tell your brain how big the beach is! Note that the person has been placed on a third, using the rule of thirds composition rule, but the horizon is placed down the centre which works best with symmetrical shots.

Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?

If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, one of my highly rated weekend residential workshops for beginner photographers or for intermediate photographers?

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