Reflections: Where Water Meets the Sky

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When I’m out and about with my camera, I always keep an eye out for reflective surfaces. Puddles, polished stone, windows, and other glass surfaces offer creative possibilities when trying to capture intriguing photographs of everyday subjects and scenarios.

Photographs © Allan Weitz 2019

Depending on camera position, reflections can add greatly to the visual dynamics of a photograph. By positioning your camera flush or close to the reflective surface, you can create a mirror image of your subject. Alternatively, by shooting from a higher camera position, you can create a totally different dynamic. Depending on the photograph and, in particular, the nature of the reflection, sometimes it’s fun to flip the image 180°. The effect can be subtle and still be obvious enough to cause the viewer to pause and take a closer look.

Sometimes you can add an extra measure of whimsy and/or mystery to reflective photographs by flipping them 180°
Sometimes you can add an extra measure of whimsy and/or mystery to reflective photographs by flipping them 180°.
Tilt screens make ground-level shooting that much easier. Just make sure you wrap your camera strap around your arm so it doesn’t get soaked.
Tilt screens make ground-level shooting that much easier. Just make sure you wrap your camera strap around your arm so it doesn’t get soaked.

Keeping your camera straight when shooting at ground level can be tricky. If your camera has an electronic level, now would be a good time to turn it on. Alternatively, you can slip a bubble level onto your camera’s accessory shoe as an aid in correcting the camera angle.

Another option for positioning your camera at ground level is to use a tabletop tripod or comparable camera support designed for low-angle shooting. These include Platypods, Kirk Low Pods, and the Jobu Design Table Top Pod.

Shooting from ground level lets you capture the scene from a visually interesting perspective, but that doesn’t mean you can’t capture powerful reflection photographs while standing. Depending on the circumstances, shooting from a higher point of view can offer a stronger composition and design aesthetic.

Any body of still water, be it a puddle, a river, or an ocean, can be used as a reflective visual element when photographing landscapes, seascapes, or rowing boats for that matter.

While you can use most any camera to take pictures of reflections, if you’re going to be handling your camera near water, you need to make sure the camera and water don’t make contact with one another. For this reason, I like using one of the many rugged, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras we sell at B&H.

The photo below was taken with an older-generation Olympus TG-850 from a point just below the surface of a puddle filled with leaves from the surrounding trees. Between the field of view of the camera’s 21mm-equivalent lens and the refractive qualities of the water, I was able to achieve a split-focus effect between the leaves and the trees from which they had fallen.

By positioning a waterproof point-and-shoot camera just below the surface of a puddle and aiming the lens slightly upward, I was able to capture freshly fallen leaves floating below the trees from which they had just separated.
By positioning a waterproof point-and-shoot camera just below the surface of a puddle and aiming the lens slightly upward, I was able to capture freshly fallen leaves floating below the trees from which they had just separated.

Even if your camera isn’t waterproof, waterproof housings enable you to use your “land-based” camera partially or entirely submerged. These housings cost anywhere from under $25 to over $4500, depending on your camera and how far below the waves you intend to dive. Keep in mind that if you plan only on shooting from or just below the surface of the water, you do not need an expensive or complicated housing—you just need to keep your gear dry.

Using a Sony a7-series camera with a 21mm f/4.5 Zeiss Biogon ZM lens and a relatively inexpensive (under $50) DiCaPac Waterproof Case, I was able to capture dramatic sunrise and sunset images of waves crashing along the shore from the surface of the water. There’s a lot of hit-and-miss shooting in this manner, but when all of the elements line up, the images can be hauntingly powerful. I captured similar images by shooting in local streams. Are there reflections in these images? No, but regardless of the lack of reflections, the perspective of viewing the ever-changing quality of flowing water from eye level is fresh and unique in so many ways. The best part: No two pictures are ever the same—each one is totally unique.

Left, a photograph of surf at sunset captured with a Sony a7S with a 21mm lens inside a DiCaPac waterproof camera housing. The photograph at right of a bubbling brook was captured using a waterproof Olympus TG-850 point-and-shoot camera.

Do you photograph reflections in water? If so, what are some of your tips and techniques? Let us know in the comments field below.

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I am a realist painter. I discovered the myriad beauty of color and distortion from reflected buildings off of adjacent glass buildings around eight years ago while walking on The High Line in NY City. I take photos and then, using acrylic paint reproduce them on canvas. After I get down the gist of the photo, I take artistic license as needed. I developed an Architectural Reflection Series of paintings, starting with images taken on that walk many years ago. StevenFleit.com

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