Water Reflections

I had the opportunity to take some shots in downtown Austin recently on a day when the winds were calm. It was late in the day, just a little before sunset. The conditions were great for capturing some of the city reflected off of Lady Bird Lake, so I headed down to the south bank to grab a few shots. I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned about getting a good image of water reflections.

1) You obviously need a lot of light to create the reflections. Choose a time when the sun is low in the sky to get a good angle of light. You'll want the sunlight coming from behind you and your camera.

2) Pick a day when the winds are calm. You want the water to be as still as possible. If boats pass through the body of water, wait until they move on and the wake calms down.

3) Find a subject, whether foliage or buildings, close to the edge of the water opposite of your location. The closer and taller they are, the longer the reflections across the water.

4) Use a tripod. You'll be getting some long exposures, regardless of whether you capture bracketed exposures for HDR processing.

5) Get low. Set your tripod as low as you can. Depending on the location, you might be better off setting the camera on the ground, a rock, or a low wall. Crouch down low, sit down, or even lay on the ground to find the best height for capturing the reflections. People passing by will give you strange looks. That's OK.

6) Use a remote shutter control or the camera's timer to minimize movement for long exposures.

7) Set your aperture to a high number for deep depth of field and to get longer shutter speeds. Set your ISO low to keep noise at a minimum. In my bracketed exposure sets for HDR, I like to get some exposures up in the 8-10 second range. This helps pick up a lot of shadow detail and the longer exposures help smooth the water out. If you are not shooting for HDR, a neutral density (ND) filter may be useful.

8) Capture bracketed images and use HDR post processing. You will be capturing a wide dynamic range and this is an excellent application for HDR technique. You'll be able to bring out a much wider range of light and tones in the water than you can get in a single exposure. Even if you don't want to process an HDR image, you may want combine multiple exposures manually with layers.

9) Include something interesting in the foreground. It might be some plants, rocks, a log...you get the idea. This gives the image depth and makes it much more interesting.

10) Shoot from a shallow edge of water if you can. I love shots where I can see through the water in the foreground. Pebbles and other details seen through the water can be quite engaging.

I hope some of these tips are useful. There is great beauty to be found in water reflections. Seek out your own and feel free to share your tips and links to your shots in a comment.

A World Reflected

I decided to try something a little different on a recent photowalk with some friends in downtown Austin. While I was walking down 6th Street looking for good compositions, I started to notice some really interesting reflections. Things took on an intriguing look when reflected back from the dark windows of bars and parked cars.

The first scene caught my attention because of the curtains hanging in the window. They created a neat textured look on this street scene. The street lights and neon sign provided just enough illumination to reveal the Friday night partygoers walking down the street. The slow shutter speed added blur to the people, adding a sense of motion.

SOHO Reflected

I saw this next reflected scene in the rear window of a minivan parked along the street. This image adds some complexity because the street is visible through the windows, as well as being reflected. The interior of the minivan adds additional dark shapes that further convolute the image in a way that may lead the viewer to look deeper and question what is reflected and what is directly visible. The effect might lead one to believe that multiple exposures were blended.

Ritz Reflected

This last image is deceptively intricate. It is largely a reflection on a glass doorway, with part of the street outside visible through glass. The negative dark space is an unlighted area off to the side of the door. I saw this image as three distinct components, almost broken into thirds: the street through the glass, the interior reflected, and a dark void. The angle at which this was shot serves to overlay some of the interior elements in the bar over the outdoor part of the image. The intermingling of the reflected and directly visible components blurs the lines of reality and invites a closer look.

The Transcendence of Fear

In all of these images, the reflected imagery is the subject of the composition. I chose angles that provided the right amount of opacity to allow some complimentary elements to be visible through the glass. Standing at an angle to the glass kept my own reflection from view. Because the images are predominantly dark with bright lighting in few places, the camera metering will probably blow the highlights badly. I shot in aperture priority mode and used exposure compensation to underexpose a bit from the metered reading and minimize blown highlights. A fast lens (Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7) was used to capture as much light as possible while keeping my ISO down. I used my Olympus E-PL1 and kept the ISO at 400 to minimize noise. Shutter speeds will be slow in situations like this, so image stabilization is a big help.

Next time you are out on the town, take some time to look for interesting reflections. You might be surprised at the things you discover in a world reflected.