When you are travelling, especially in more famous and popular tourist destinations, you often find yourself lacking inspiration or seeing every shot as a bit banal. Picture postcard photographs, already seen a thousand times, are fine but it is always best to alternate them with new and original images.
One idea that can be very effective when you’re short of motivation, and that has certainly worked for us on occasion, is to photograph reflections. A river, a lake, a puddle, but also a building, a mirror or a shiny surface; they can all create interesting and unusual reflections that give your photos a touch of originality that would be missing if the shot had been taken directly of the subject.
Reflections in nature scenes add supernatural power to an image, whether the subject is static or in motion. In images of architecture, a reflection can provide an original geometrical effect that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
Photographs of reflections can be divided into two main types:
- those in which the original subject is included in the frame
- those in which the reflection itself is the subject of the frame
In the first instance, the reflection serves only to highlight the presence of the subject. A building, a tree or an animal can be photographed with its specular image to create a symmetrical effect that is both pleasing and captivating. If you photograph animals in water, such as birds taking flight, be careful with the aperture-shutter speed combination and try to open the former as much as possible to get a still and clean image: the drops of water created by the subject give a great motion effect.
In general, the image composition is based on the symmetry between subject and reflection, so it is important to give enough importance to both. For this reason, often the traditional rules of photography, from the rule of thirds to the diagonal method, are badly adapted to suit such images, and it is best instead to divide the frame equally between subject and reflection.
The exposure is of fundamental importance and it is advisable to focus on the subject that is always the main feature of the photo, leaving the reflection slightly overexposed: trust your camera’s spot metering function to do this. However, take care not to go overboard and lose the details in the shadow areas entirely; give it a few tries and make use of the HDR technique to recover the darkest bits, if need be.
In the second instance, the photographer’s job is a lot simpler but less predictable. It involves following the usual rules of photography but the more difficult part, this time, is “seeing” the subject that is hidden on the surface of a river, lake or in the window of a city building. Once your subject has been identified, the most delicate step is getting the reflection in focus, given that smooth, shiny surfaces are not easy for your camera’s autofocus; if it isn’t working, the only thing to do is to set the focus to manual and take the shot when the reflected image seems clear.
In urban settings, this type of photography can give you great satisfaction, breaking with the monotony of taking shots of buildings. Include the sky, clouds or passers-by reflected in the windows to obtain the desired effect. Another suggestion, for rainy days, is to look down as well as up: puddles can be your ally and can provide excellent reflective surfaces in which to find interesting subjects, perhaps framed by the dry surrounding ground.
When looking for the right shot within a reflection, make use of your knowledge and use your imagination to exclude unwanted aspects; you are certain to get pictures that are different from the usual shots and worth including in your travel photo feature.
Leo and Vero
Leo and Vero are two tireless travellers who love to discover the world by bicycle. After ten months cycling through Southeast Asia, they returned to Italy, but still dedicate their every spare moment to cycling, travelling and photography. They have travelled far and wide but are convinced that the best journey is always the one they have yet to make… “Because travelling is to remember the past, live the present and dream of the future.”
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