How To Photograph Reflections

An image with an eerie painterly effect was achieved by photographing this young woman's reflection under a mixture of daylight and incandescent lighting.

Reflections are not only wonderful to behold, they also make great content for the creative photographer. This photo is of Claire, a young woman who attended a workshop I ran on existing light photography.

I like the image’s predominantly warm color palette, most of which is overhead incandescent (i.e., tungsten) light reflected into the mirror. I remember asking Claire to tilt the mirror to bring some of that warm light down into the image frame.

Critical Focusing

One of the tricks when photographing reflections is to ensure your camera has focused on the reflection rather than on the surface of the mirror, water or other reflective surface. With the above image as a case in point, focusing on the surface of the mirror (i.e., the glass) would have resulted in marks and scum on its surface coming into focus and Claire’s face rendering out of focus.

Depth Of Field

It’s worthwhile considering what part/s of the image you want in focus, and critical focusing is only one piece of that puzzle. In the above example options would include the following:

  • Only the actual human subject in focus
  • Only the reflection of the subject in the mirror in focus, as we see above
  • Both the subject and their reflection in focus

Looking at the image in this post it’s also good to think whether the real Claire should be slightly sharper or, conversely, even more out of focus. The only way to know what’s best is to make a few versions of the same image each of which features a different depth of field. The three elements that determine depth of field are as follows:

  • Aperture selected
  • Camera to subject distance (move closer to create a more shallow DOF, move further back to increase DOF)
  • Lens focal length

I’d encourage you to have fun photographing reflections, whether in our man made or natural environment. For what it’s worth photographing people reflected in mirrors is particularly tricky. If you want to do it consider photographing an inanimate, non-human subject first. A teddy bear, bust of Beethoven, flowers or a bowl of fruit would do fine.

Only once you’ve got the technique down should you bring in the human element. Why? If they lack patience their mood will effect your approach, result and overall experience. And it should be fun. Right?

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru