Mirror, Mirror: Using Reflections in Landscape Photography

I primarily photograph landscapes, capturing everything from sunrise over the Atlantic to scenic mountain vistas in the snow-white grip of winter. Within all of these locations, many of the scenes I photograph have one thing in common — water.

With water being a common element, you might imagine reflections are a big part of my nature and landscape photography.

Follow along to learn about using reflection in landscape photography:

Cherry Pond Blue Hour Reflections

Mirrors upon the landscape

If the scene I’m photographing includes water, or better yet the smooth surface of a pond or a lake, and I’m not trying to capture the blurred cotton candy look created by using a long exposure, I will usually try to incorporate those reflections as key elements in my photos. In the above photo, shot over Cherry Pond in northern New Hampshire, the mirror reflection of the distant mountains and the pink clouds above them was as important to me to capture as anything else in the scene. It’s the reflection that inspired me to take the photo in the first place.

Notice how in both the first and second photos I’ve included more of the reflection than I did of the background. In each case, the reflection takes up about two-thirds of the frame.

Stonehouse Pond, Fall Reflections

The reflections I use in my photography aren’t always the traditional glassy-smooth reflections on water. Often it’s the way the light is reflecting off of my main subject that catches my eye.

In this photo shot one morning while wandering around Portsmouth, N.H., it was the sunlight reflecting on the windows that attracted me. Of course the photo also has a pretty great reflection on the water and wet rocks, too.

Sunrise over Pierce Island, Portsmouth, NH

Abstract impressionist

Another way I like to use reflections in my landscape photos is as the main subject. Often including nothing but the reflection.

Autumn Dreaming

Particularly during the peak foliage of autumn, when the light is right and the colors reflecting off of the surface of the water are brilliant, you can make some very interesting abstract images. There have been days when I’ve gone into the mountains during autumn and photographed nothing but reflections of the fall colors on the gently rippled surface of a few lakes and ponds as well as the roaring cascades of the Swift River.

Autumn Forest Reflection

Reflections in a supporting roll

As I mention above, quite often the reflections in my photographs are the star of the show. However, I also like to utilize them as supporting cast. Reflections make great leading lines directing the viewers eye to the main subject of your photo.

Here I’ve used leading lines starting with the cleft in the shoreline granite, continuing via the light reflected on the water, softened by a slightly long exposure, all leading to the main event. Nubble Light decked out in its holiday best.

Christmas Time At Nubble Light.

Landscape reflection photography tips

1. Get low

Getting the best reflections on water requires shooting at a low angle to the waters surface. I spend a lot of time on my knees when I’m on a mission to photograph reflections.

2. Use a circular polarizing filter

Use a circular polarizer to correct or adjust the amount of reflection you want. In this next photo, I adjusted my polarizer to maximize the reflection and remove just enough of the glare as to be able see some of the rocks and sand on the bottom of the lake.

Sunrise Fire Over Baxter Lake

3. Watch the wind

For a mirror-like reflection, you need virtually no wind whatsoever. Early in the morning and late in the evening, coincidentally when the light is usually the best anyway, are the best time to try for a smooth lake or pond.

When creating an abstract-style image, a slight breeze is helpful for creating gentle ripples on the water.

4. Experiment with exposure

A faster shutter speed, especially if there is a little wind creating ripples on the water, will give you a more detailed reflection.

Cloud Reflections, Cherry Pond, Jefferson, NH

A slower shutter speed will soften the reflection creating an entirely different look and feel to the photograph.

Clouds Reflecting On Cherry Pond

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How do you like to use reflections in your photography? 

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