Tips on How to Take Great Reflective Surface Photography

Tips on How to Take Great Reflective Surface Photography

Have you ever stopped to gaze at a puddle, finding a flipped world within its bounds? Reflective surface photography does precisely that – it invites us to explore the world from a unique perspective, turning ordinary scenes into extraordinary visions. Unlike traditional photography, capturing reflections requires a keen eye for detail and an understanding of how light interacts with surfaces.

What the Numbers Say

While specific statistics on reflective surface photography are scarce, the broader field of photography has seen exponential growth. For instance, the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, with over a billion monthly active users, underscores the increasing importance of photography in our daily lives.

A 2019 survey by Canon USA revealed that 47% of Americans feel that photography helps them to see the world differently. Reflective photography, by extension, amplifies this effect, offering new angles and insights into familiar scenes.

Understanding Reflective Surfaces

Reflective Surfaces

Reflective surfaces come in many forms – water, glass, metal, and more. Each offers a different texture and quality of reflection, from the perfect mirror-like surface of a calm lake to the distorted and dynamic reflections of a polished car. The key to mastering reflective surface photography is learning to see the potential in everyday scenes.

Location, Location, Location

Finding the right spot can lead you to the perfect shot. Urban areas, with their mix of water features and glass buildings, offer a myriad of opportunities. Natural landscapes, too, provide a canvas for reflection photography, especially during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset when light is soft and colors are vibrant.

Lighting: The Make or Break Factor

Lighting: The Make or Break Factor

Light determines the mood and quality of your reflection. Overcast days can provide a soft, even light that minimizes glare, while the golden hours offer warm tones and long shadows. Nighttime brings a new dimension, with artificial lights creating vibrant reflections on water and glass.

Embrace Minimalism


Sometimes, less is more in reflective surface photography. Embrace minimalist compositions that focus on a single reflective element or a small area of interest. By simplifying your compositions, you can create images with a strong visual impact and a sense of tranquility. Look for opportunities to capture reflections in isolation, allowing them to become the focal point of your photographs.

Incorporate People and Objects

Don’t hesitate to incorporate people, objects, or wildlife into your reflective surface photography. By including human or animal subjects, you can add scale, context, and visual interest to your compositions.

Experiment with different poses, gestures, and interactions to create dynamic and storytelling images that evoke emotion and curiosity in viewers. Just be mindful of reflections obscuring or distracting from your subjects, and adjust your composition accordingly.

Framing Your Reflection

Composition in reflective photography goes beyond the rule of thirds. It’s about finding symmetry or creating juxtapositions between the reflection and the real world. Leading lines, framing, and the use of negative space can all contribute to a more compelling image.

The Technical Toolbox

Polarizing Filters: Polarizing filters can be invaluable tools in reflective surface photography, helping to reduce glare and unwanted reflections. By rotating the filter to the appropriate angle, you can enhance colors, increase contrast, and improve overall image clarity. Experiment with polarizing filters in different lighting conditions to achieve optimal results and minimize distractions caused by reflections. These can minimize glare on reflective surfaces, making the reflection clearer and more vivid.

Long Exposures: Long-exposure photography can yield stunning results in reflective surface photography, particularly when capturing moving water or dynamic cityscapes. By using a slow shutter speed, you can create silky smooth textures in water reflections and blur motion in bustling urban environments. Experiment with different exposure times to achieve the desired effect and convey a sense of movement and energy in your images. Ideal for smoothing out water or capturing light trails, long exposures require a tripod and a bit of patience but can result in stunning images.

Post-Processing: Post-processing can elevate your reflective surface photography to the next level by enhancing colors, contrast, and clarity. Experiment with editing techniques such as adjusting exposure, saturation, and white balance to fine-tune your images and bring out the full potential of reflections. Avoid over-processing your images and strive for a natural and balanced look that complements the reflective surfaces. Tools like Lightroom or Photoshop can enhance your reflections, adjusting exposure, contrast, and saturation to bring out their best.

DIY Reflections


Don’t have a lake or skyscraper nearby? Create your own reflective surfaces. A simple mirror, a glass pane, or even a smartphone screen can serve as a medium for reflective photography, offering endless creative possibilities.

Reflections in Action: Real-Life Examples

One of the most iconic reflective photographs is “Monolith, The Face of Half Dome” by Ansel Adams. Adams’ mastery of lighting and composition turned a rock formation and its reflection in a small pool of water into a strikingly powerful image, showcasing the profound impact of reflective surface photography.

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome" by Ansel Adams.

Tips from the Pros

Experiment: Try different angles and perspectives. Sometimes, the best shot comes from where you least expect it.

Focus: Decide whether the focus is on the reflection or the real object, as this will guide your composition and camera settings.

Patience: Wait for the right moment. The perfect reflection might only appear for a few minutes during the day.

Looking Ahead

Reflective surface photography remains a vibrant field, with new technologies and techniques continually emerging. Drones, for example, offer new perspectives on reflective photography, capturing vast landscapes and their reflections from above.

Final Thoughts

Photography is about capturing the world from your unique perspective. Reflective surface photography challenges you to look deeper, finding beauty and meaning in the reflections that surround you. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just starting, the world of reflections offers endless opportunities to explore, create, and inspire.

Picture of Tazim Ul Mulk

Tazim Ul Mulk

As a fervent writer and an enthusiast in the beauty of imagery, I wish to show the world the true meaning behind each image.