Photographing reflections

Snapping reflections in tranquil water can usually ensure a nice enough shot. Here are some simple tricks to make sure it's a stunning one.

It's a crisp autumn dawn on the canalside. The sun is fresh over the horizon, there isn't a soul about and barely a breath of wind. The canal is as still as a mill pond, save a drifting swan and her trail of cygnets, and a weeping willow dipping its branches into the golden water. It's a scene you want to preserve forever and luckily, you've brought your camera with you. How easy is it to effectively capture a waterway scene that's good enough to frame and what should you bear in mind?

The light

The hour after sunrise is ideal for quality of light, creating long dramatic shadows. To make the most of this in your photo, ensure that the landscape and trees are brightly lit but the surface of the water is in shade to avoid glare that can reduce the intensity of the reflection. For best results shoot with the sun at your back. And remember, the lower the angle you shoot from, the more reflection you'll see. 

Rule of thirds

The basic principle is fairly obvious: break your image down into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so you have a grid of nine parts overlaying it. Place the horizon on the first or second horizontal line and place your subject on one of the points where a horizontal and vertical line meet. This rule can be broken, of course – if you place the horizon in the upper third of the image, this gives more emphasis to everything underneath and immediately draws the viewer's eye.


Shooting bright reflections or early morning mist rolling across the water can trick your camera into underexposing the shot, resulting in a dark photo. You can fix this by having a fiddle with the exposure settings (usually a plus/minus symbol on the camera). Also, because the body of water will be darker than the sky it is reflecting, try using a graduated neutral density filter, which will reduce any excessive brightness.

Words: Abigail Whyte


Last date edited: 19 November 2014

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