Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearney
The beginning of a new year is a time when many of us make resolutions to end bad habits, or to start that special project we’ve been putting off for months. It’s a time to take stock of our lives and to reflect upon our accomplishments (or lack thereof).
That got me thinking about literal reflections in photography. A perfect mirror image of a subject in a body of water is a great way to add interest and creativity to a photo. The amount of water can be as small as a dew drop on a stem that magically encompasses a floral portrait, to a river that reflects a mighty landscape.
Some reflections are easy to spot. I shot the two waterlilies above at a botanical garden in a reflecting pool – making it practically impossible not to include their reflection. It did take a bit of time, however, to find a “clean” composition where the reflection wasn’t obscured by any of the surrounding lily pads.
Lakes are another popular location to capture reflections. I shot the photo below one morning in the Twin Lakes area of the New York Botanical Garden. The winds were very light, which allowed me to get a nice, crisp image on the water’s surface. If you’d like a more abstract reflection, try shooting on a windy day, or throw a rock in the water for more controllable results. The ripples can work particularly well with fall foliage – with the reflection, oftentimes, serving as the main subject.
One of the more offbeat sources of reflections are puddles. Since it’s impossible to predict where one may form, they’re often overlooked or completely disregarded as a worthwhile subject. In fact, I almost did just that while shooting the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island, NY. During the day, it was just an annoyance – something to avoid stepping in while I surveyed the area for shots. But, just before nightfall, as I was beginning to pack up and leave, a wonderful capture of its tower and cables emerged from this little oasis. Completely unexpected, it was the best shot I got that day.
Ever since then, I find myself paying closer attention to puddles. While shooting fall foliage in Croton Point Park, located in Westchester New York, I came across a puddle in front of a group of trees. What really attracted me to the scene was the sun. It was straining to break through heavy cloud cover. When I looked directly at it in the sky, it was too bright to make out any details. However, its reflection revealed a perfectly shaped orb. A reflection is darker than the subject being reflected because some of the light is absorbed into the water. The amount of light loss varies depending on the angle of the reflection, but it generally results in about a 1-stop reduction of light. In this case, it was almost like viewing an eclipse through protective eyewear.
Almost anything in nature looks better when shot with a polarizing filter… almost. These filters are the enemies of reflections and should, therefore, be used sparingly (if at all). If the scene is exceptionally reflective, such as the waterlily image, I’ll use the filter with only a fraction of its power dialed in. For this shot, it was just enough to knock down some of the glare on the lily pads, but not so much as to lose the reflection in a pool of blackness. I also used a special effect filter to give the image an old-fashioned, sepia-toned look.
Reflections can be either a distraction, or an integral part of the photo. It’s up to you to determine how to use them to your best advantage.