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Photograph Landscape Reflections

Posted on 5th December, 2018

Photograph Landscape Reflections

The majority of landscape enthusiasts are instinctively drawn to water – for example, the sea, rivers, waterfalls and lakes. Water can help imply motion, reflect light and colour, and create mirror like reflections. A reflective surface can dramatically enhance a landscape photo, particularly at sunrise or sunset, when colour in the sky is mirrored in your foreground. Large bodies of water – like a lake or loch – are best, but they are also more prone to being wind affected. Although gentle ripples can prove photographic, to capture a true mirror image of the landscape, you require dead calm. Therefore, smaller areas of water – like a rock-pool, pond, lochan or even a puddle – are a better option when it is breezy.

The scene itself will dictate you choice of focal length. For example, if you are photographing a big, mountainous scene, you will want to go wide-angle in order to capture both it and its reflection. However, a medium telephoto will be better suited if you want to isolate a smaller, more select area – maybe a lone tree or building along with its reflection. Try attaching a polariser and rotate the filter to reduce surface glare and intensify reflections. A low viewpoint will often accentuate reflections, so crouch or kneel down, or use a tripod with low-level capabilities. It is normally best to set-up close to the water’s edge. 

Photographers are often taught to apply the rule-of-thirds, and to avoid centralizing the horizon as this can produce quite static looking compositions. However, when you shoot reflections, it is often worthwhile disregarding this advice. By placing the horizon centrally, you can create a better feeling of symmetry and actually enhance the impact of the composition – try it for yourself. 

While a mirror like reflection is typically all the foreground you need, don’t disregard including other elements – if you feel that they genuinely enhance the composition. For instance, reeds, driftwood, a jetty, rowing boats or a few boulders popping up through the water’s surface are all things that might help add scale and interest. But if you do decide to do this, just be careful that these things don’t abruptly interrupt or overlap your reflected landscape.

Top Tips

  • Try placing the horizon centrally – in this instance, it can create a better feeling of symmetry.
  • Try using an ND filter to prolong exposure length to reduce, or smooth out, any ripples on the water. 
  • Check the weather forecast. Calm, still days – with a wind speed below 5mph – are best for photographing reflections.