When I head out for my usual photography excursions, I’ve noticed that I primarily think about what I’d like to take photos of. What I mean is, I pretty much have a basic idea of the object I’d like to photograph. For instance, if I’d like to take some pictures of a car, all my mental energy is targeted at the car itself. Not where the car is located or its immediate setting. Not the weather or the lighting. All of these different aspects are just as important as the car, but so often, I get tunnel vision and think just car, car, car. I really need to get away from that because if you look at high quality photography, you’ll see that the “car” is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Everything comes into play and that’s what separates the amateurs from the pros.
I live in a very small town in Maine. When I arrived here a few years ago, I was absolutely floored by the beauty of the lakes in the area. I’ve never seen anything like them and was blown away by how “Maine” they looked, if that makes any sense. With so many of them, there are houses on the shores and mountains as the backdrops. They’re stunning and clean and just all around beautiful.
You know what? Let me just show you a few photos that my lady and I captured about three years ago as we were driving by Wilson Lake in Wilton, Maine. You tell me if I’m correct in my assessment.
Photos courtesy of Glaszart.com.
Now, let me ask you something. What is it in these two photos that makes them so special? Is it the land or the backdrop? Probably not. We’ve all seen those things far too many times for them to even be noticeable. Is it the weather or the lighting? Probably not. While those two aspects of the images are nearly perfect, they’re still not special enough to remember. Is it the reflections in the water? Bingo. That’s what it is. If it weren’t for those reflections, these photos wouldn’t be nearly what they are. The reflections double the size and orientation of the land, they double the beautiful weather and the sky and they certainly exhibit the creativity that was coursing through the photographer’s mind while they were taking the shot. Simply put, reflections take a ho-hum photograph and make it outstanding, if captured correctly. They add space to an image.
In today’s post, I’d like to talk about reflections on water when it comes to photography, but I’d like to go one step further and discuss those reflections on water at night. After all, night photography offers many more dimensions than daylight photography does and the longer exposures that are necessary can truly aid in the interest in the image.
When Should We Use Reflections in Our Photography?
There’s a common issue when it comes to photography and that’s what to do with dead or empty space. In the photos I shared above, would things have looked nearly as good if it had been windy that day? Probably not. The water would have been choppy and there wouldn’t have been any sort of reflection. That water would have been considered empty space and the images would have suffered because of that. The mirror-like surface was just perfect and we were lucky to have seen something like that.
So here’s a tip: use reflections to fill in empty space. And just so you know, reflections aren’t only found on water; they’re also found on anything shiny, from buildings to vehicles to any sort of man-made object. Use those reflections to add to your creativity.
Here’s another tip: be aware of where you’re standing and the height of your camera when it comes to shooting reflections on water. Let’s say you’re standing on the shore of a lake or a very still stream and you’d like to capture some very nice reflections that are stemming from across the shore. Did you know that the lower you place your camera; the closer to the water you place your camera, the more content you’ll capture in the image? That’s right. The closer the camera is to the water, the more the reflection will show. To test this out, simply stand on the edge of a still stream and look across toward the shore. Then, kneel down and look across. I’m sure you’ll see what I’m talking about here.
Capturing Water Reflections at Night
I’ve written about taking photographs at night before on this website and the good news is that nothing really changes when you want to add reflections to the mix. The primary considerations are camera placement, as I alluded to above, as well as shutter speed. When dealing with reflections on water that’s not completely still and mirror-like, you’ll need to set the camera’s shutter speed to something long enough to smooth out the choppiness. Take a look at this next image.
If you take a look at the water, you’ll notice that it’s very smooth, but that the reflection of the bridge and the city isn’t clear. This is because the water was choppy and the slow shutter speed compensated by taking an average of all water movement as the camera’s sensor was exposed to its environment. Personally, I love this kind of look and this is what I primarily go for at night. Remember though, the shutter speed has to be fairly long. I can imagine this one being at least five seconds. If it’s extremely dark though, it’s normal to set a shutter speed to four minutes. In a dark scene with only a few lights showing on a distant shore, I’d probably go with anything between two and four minutes for the shutter speed. If I was photographing during the blue hour, I’d likely set the shutter speed to a value of anything between 15 and 30 seconds.
Regarding ISO, I always keep that low at night. So for photographs such as these, I would generally never go above 800. In the above bridge scene, since there’s available light, I would keep the ISO down at 100 and work with the shutter speed and the aperture until I captured the image I was after.
Remember, the higher the number for the aperture (f/22), the smaller the hole that let’s the light through. Also, the higher the number, the deeper the depth of field. Don’t go smaller than f/11 though if you want your images to be sharp. Small aperture holes blur images because of diffraction. The bridge image above was taken with a small aperture. You can tell because the foreground and background are clear. Unless, of course, there were multiple images taken with different focal points and some masking was performed in Photoshop. That’s always a possibility.
What’s the moral of this story? When capturing reflections in your photography at night, get down close to the water. That way, you’ll include much more reflection in your photos. Also, be sure to follow the rules of taking photographs at night. If there’s light in the scene, use a low ISO value. Stick with a smaller aperture and work with a slow shutter speed. Experiment a lot and you’ll quickly pick up what you need to know. Use a remote shutter button or set the timer on your camera to avoid camera shake. Use the live view mode as opposed to the viewfinder because the mirror inside isn’t used with live view. You’ll virtually eliminate mirror slap this way. Use full Manual mode. You’ll need all the flexibility that this mode offers. You’ll be hamstrung in any other mode.
I hope I clearly explained how to capture reflections on water during night photography. If you have any questions regarding this post, please ask down in the comment section below or in the photography forum. I’m always here to help. Thanks for reading!