To be a truly creativity photographer, you must develop an eye for more than the obvious element within a composition. For example, a portrait may be more creative and compelling because of the shadows and contrast that you manipulate with the light source, not necessarily the look of the person being portrayed. Another less obvious element that beginner, and even many amateur, photographers overlook is reflections. Water, windows, mirrors or a shiny metal surface suddenly become creative tools if you are looking for them and understand how to position you and your camera at the correct angle. The following tips will help you become more aware of reflections in your shooting environment, and then how to use them creatively.
1. If you’re looking for reflections outdoors, then you are more apt to recognize them and think of ways to use them during early morning and late evening hours, sunrise and sunset. The sunlight is hitting the surface of the Earth (and any reflective areas on it) at low and sharp angles, which not only makes it easier to spot those reflective surfaces, but also to position your camera and/or your subjects/objects to maximize the creative use of what is reflected from those surfaces and into your lens.
2. Important equipment to include among your gear is a tripod and various filters: polarizing and graduated neutral density. With a polarizer, you’ll be able to regulate how shiny the reflective surface appears. Use the ND filter to avoid the sky becoming overexposed.
3. If you’ve chosen the surface of water to create a reflection, then try a bit longer shutter speed because it will cause the surface to look smoother. Experiment with aperture settings too, for different depths of field that can have an interesting effect on a reflection.
4. Focus may also create quite different reflective effects. With the subject in focus, his or her reflection is likely not to be in focus. Alternatively, try focusing on the reflection. Depending on the distance between the subject and the reflection, you may discover a creative composition that you would have otherwise missed.
5. Water is an obvious reflective surface, but also consider taking your camera under the surface, which can result in seeing and recording reflections quite differently. The trick is to photograph objects or subjects just below the surface, where there is plenty of unfiltered light, which helps to retain more of the colors in your shot.
6. As you become more familiar with composing with reflections, remember to open your mind to vertical surfaces as well as the obvious horizontal surfaces. A puddle of water or the shallow, still water of low tide will create excellent reflections, but also consider reflections in windows and the vertical metal surface of a building.
7. Another creative variation to keep in mind is that the reflective surface, particularly water or metal, doesn’t necessarily have to be completely smooth. Slightly rippling water or a shiny metal surface that is convex or concave will reproduce a completely different set of reflections; much the same as mirrors in a carnival funhouse.
8. Using artificial light with reflections can be tricky. The shinier the surface, the less light it absorbs (if any) and the more light is reflected into your lens. In many, if not most, cases, a flash or studio lights may work better above or behind the subject.
9. Position your camera, your subject and the reflective surface, with a clear, blue sky as the background. The reflection of the subject is stronger and more recognizable since the blue sky is also reflected. To create this effect, you always want the sun behind you.