Tips for Water Reflection Shots?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by bob_k, Sep 2, 2003.

  1. Next month I will go to a place famous for its lakes, granite, peaks
    and color. There should be some dramatic reflection shots available
    with color and peaks reflecting in the water.

    Has anyone thought out the science and technique of water reflection
    shots? I would appreciate any tips you can think of.

    -What causes good reflections? Do you just have to be lucky and be
    there when good reflections occur?

    -What are the best conditions for the best reflections. I.e. where
    do you want the sun to be (angle from the surface, angle between the
    sun, the target and you, do you want it behind you to the side,
    etc.) If I want to get good reflection shots what time should I
    plan my visits to the lakes and which side of the lakes should I be
    on?

    -Where do you want to be (what angle do you want to shoot relative
    to the water and relative to the sun)?

    -What kind of filters (e.g. no polarizer)?

    -What kind of shutter speeds produce what effects?

    -What kind of film? I assume Velvia 50 is good.

    -How do I get a reflection of the moon and a peak in the water? Is
    there anything different for night shooting?

    Anything else?
     
  2. Too many (good) questions. I will help with a couple. The best reflection shots happen with well illuminated subjects against a clear blue sky. That means the sun should not be in front but in back of your position. Use a circular polarizer and remove it if you don't like it. The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, so often--but not always--that means getting at a near grazing angle. Expect to hunker down a lot. Often, but not always, the best shots are with still water. And the best candidates for still water are very shallow ponds, and especially puddles. Its often more interesting to have something in the water itself be visible, either by sticking or growing out of it. Use a tripod. Smooth out the water a bit with long (1-4 second) exposures. Stop down. Use f/16 or smaller for great depth of field. Expose for the reflection and then drop down on shutter speed. Use a ND filter if you have it, but don't use it as a crutch. Typically an occulting board works as well. I used an occulting board on my 'self similar' shot (in my portfolio) a few weeks back. Teach yourself to see the reflection rather than the water, It takes a bit of effort IMO. Learn from others experience and mistakes. Here's an attached example:) My friend had the wrong angle from this vantage point. I rib him about it with this shot.
    005tic-14298984.jpg
     
  3. Yep, people have thought out the science of reflections, and hopefully someone will post something about it (I'm not expert enough at the science to do it justice).

    The strongest reflections tend to be when light is relatively low and direct on the object you want to see reflected, but not directly on the surface you want to see the reflections in. That is, the mountain in light and the water without direct light. But that's no hard and fast rule. If you have good conditions, the angle for shooting can be largely a result of your compositional choices. Let your eye guide you as much as the science.

    Polarizers are worthwhile when working with reflections because they help control the amount of reflected light you get. Essentially you can slightly enhance the effect or wipe it out entirely. Fortunately, you can see what you're getting in the viewfinder.

    The shutter speeds when shooting reflections tend to be dictated by the DOF requirements. Great reflections with long exposures are possible in still water. Of course, moving water is no reason not to try shots, but they will be different.

    Use the films you like. They don't respond to reflected light differently than they respond to direct light. Some have greater latitude or contrast than others, and that can be a factor. In fact, many people use split-ND filters to control the contrast between a scene and its reflection, but you can overdo that too...

    Hope that helps a little. Experiment and enjoy.
     
  4. Thanks for the great answers. Please my follow up comments below.
    The best reflection shots happen with well illuminated subjects against a clear blue sky. That means the sun should not be in front but in back of your position.
    So in the morning get shots facing northwest (assuming you want the southeastern sun behind you) and towards late afternoon get shots facing northeast.
    Use a circular polarizer and remove it if you don't like it.
    I was thinking that polarizers would just cut through and lessen the reflection. How does a polarizer enhance the reflection?
    The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, so often--but not always--that means getting at a near grazing angle. Expect to hunker down a lot.
    Okay: get close to the lake and as flat to the reflection as possible (and still get it in the frame.)
    Often, but not always, the best shots are with still water. And the best candidates for still water are very shallow ponds, and especially puddles.
    Good point. The place I'm going has very shallow alpine lakes.
    Its often more interesting to have something in the water itself be visible, either by sticking or growing out of it.
    Okay.
    Use a tripod.
    It's heavy, but I'm carrying one in.
    Smooth out the water a bit with long (1-4 second) exposures. Stop down. Use f/16 or smaller for great depth of field.
    If you want the sharpest reflection wouldn't you want a short shutter speed to reduce blur from the motion of the water?
    Expose for the reflection and then drop down on shutter speed.
    Not sure about this...can you elaborate?
    Use a ND filter if you have it, but don't use it as a crutch. Typically an occulting board works as well. I used an occulting board on my 'self similar' shot (in my portfolio) a few weeks back.
    I have a couple good singh-ray filters that I use.
     
  5. Bob, Here's another shot. I pose it as an extreme. It is a velvia shot from a foot off the bank of a lake in MA. Dawn. I knew the color would be great, but I wanted something more dramatic. I used two flashes for fill flash. One was two feet to my right and the other 5 feet from my right. One was focused down at the log in the water, the other was diffuse. I ended up with light from three sources reflecting on the water (through the bounce of course). I got a full-day effect on the logs and trees and a dawn reflection on the water (mostly). I pose this, again, as a very demanding reflection shot but wanted you to know that it is a very creative and fun option. If you wish, I will put up one or two more easier but neat examples.
    005trY-14301184.jpg
     
  6. Again, great answers. Please see my comments below.
    The strongest reflections tend to be when light is relatively low and direct on the object you want to see reflected, but not directly on the surface you want to see the reflections in. That is, the mountain in light and the water without direct light. But that's no hard and fast rule. If you have good conditions, the angle for shooting can be largely a result of your compositional choices. Let your eye guide you as much as the science.
    So you need something that blocks out the sun from the lake but not the objects on the other side of the like? Something like a peak or trees behind you on the near bank, and then wait for the sun to rise just above that.
    Polarizers are worthwhile when working with reflections because they help control the amount of reflected light you get. Essentially you can slightly enhance the effect or wipe it out entirely. Fortunately, you can see what you're getting in the viewfinder.
    That's a good point -- even though I'm not sure why it would, I can try looking to see if the polarizer can help.
    The shutter speeds when shooting reflections tend to be dictated by the DOF requirements. Great reflections with long exposures are possible in still water. Of course, moving water is no reason not to try shots, but they will be different.
    I guess it matters how still the water is and how clear you want the reflection or if you want a blurred effect just to capture the colors. I will definitely experiment to see what I can come up with.
    Thanks for the great answers.
     
  7. Fantastic shot, Nathan.

    Yes, please post other examples. Those are very useful.

    Thanks.
     
  8. <<Thanks for the great answers. Please my follow up comments below.
    The best reflection shots happen with well illuminated subjects against a clear blue sky. That means the sun should not be in front but in back of your position.

    So in the morning get shots facing northwest (assuming you want the southeastern sun behind you) and towards late afternoon get shots facing northeast. >>

    Yes.

    <<Use a circular polarizer and remove it if you don't like it.

    I was thinking that polarizers would just cut through and lessen the reflection. How does a polarizer enhance the reflection? >>

    It enhances contrast by blocking out selected reflections and darkening the sky--in certain directions away from the sun. This allows the highly polarized colors, if sought, to dominate over the otherwise glaring parts, if present. A CP will be adjustable to taste for extremes or in betweens.

    <<The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, so often--but not always--that means getting at a near grazing angle. Expect to hunker down a lot.

    Okay: get close to the lake and as flat to the reflection as possible (and still get it in the frame.) >>

    Usually; again, look around and see what looks best.

    <<Often, but not always, the best shots are with still water. And the best candidates for still water are very shallow ponds, and especially puddles.

    Good point. The place I'm going has very shallow alpine lakes. >>

    These will be great if pond scum and pond grass and lilly pads don't dominate:)

    <<Its often more interesting to have something in the water itself be visible, either by sticking or growing out of it.

    Okay. >>

    Some folks like throwing a ND filter in to get the reflection the same brightness as the main shot. Then they have a (surface breaking)rock or pond grass in the foreground to add tension.

    <<Use a tripod.

    It's heavy, but I'm carrying one in. >>

    Even a cheapo light one is good.

    <<Smooth out the water a bit with long (1-4 second) exposures. Stop down. Use f/16 or smaller for great depth of field.

    If you want the sharpest reflection wouldn't you want a short shutter speed to reduce blur from the motion of the water? >>

    The best reflections happen with very still water, or very blurred water. Freezing water motion only tends to be distracting from the reflection.

    <<Expose for the reflection and then drop down on shutter speed.

    Not sure about this...can you elaborate?>>

    If you expose for the reflection and don't compensate, the main shot will be overexposed. This way the main shot is less likely to overexpose and the reflection will be slightly underexposed. In extremes, the main shot will be just too bright and you'll have to use a 2 or 3 stop ND filter to equalize it; thus my comment below.

    <<Use a ND filter if you have it, but don't use it as a crutch. Typically an occulting board works as well. I used an occulting board on my 'self similar' shot (in my portfolio) a few weeks back.

    I have a couple good singh-ray filters that I use.>>

    Ah! Good man.
     
  9. Re: why the longer exposure can improve the reflection: This shot was at 1 second, the shot in my next post was at 3 seconds. The longer exposure averages everything out and the reflection appears smoother.
    005tud-14303084.jpg
     
  10. 3 second exposure
    005tug-14303184.jpg
     
  11. So you need something that blocks out the sun from the lake but not the objects on the other side of the like? Something like a peak or trees behind you on the near bank, and then wait for the sun to rise just above that.
    Yep, that's the idea, methinks. That way, the water is darker and the reflection comparatively stronger. Of course, it's not the only way to do it. Anyway, these conditions do occur in canyons and mountains. I've attached a shot of Red Arch Rock in Zion (where I basically admitted defeat and vowed to return after a quick 1-day visit on the way somewhere else). It's not a great shot for a few reasons, but it shows the conditions we're talking about here. I probably used a 2-stop ND filter, but could well have used 3-stops without making the reflection too bright, I think.
    That's a good point -- even though I'm not sure why it would, I can try looking to see if the polarizer can help.
    Exactly so. Polarizers are cool that way, eh...
    I guess it matters how still the water is and how clear you want the reflection or if you want a blurred effect just to capture the colors. I will definitely experiment to see what I can come up with.
    You've got it. Of course, this is partly just a result of what you get when you're there. If you've got a perfectly calm morning, you can get those infinitely sharp reflections. If not, you'll get something else...
    Glad we could be of help.
     
  12. I agree with Marshall Goff: "The strongest reflections tend to be when light is relatively low and direct on the object you want to see reflected, but not directly on the surface you want to see the reflections in." It seems the last point is particular important. I took the attached photo in August at about 9:40 am, facing west with the water in shadow.
    005twm-14304484.jpg
     
  13. Nice shots guys!

    Bob, some people think the criteria for a great reflex shot is to get the same brightness and sharpness as the main shot. That's up to you. Marshall has an excellent example of a sharp reflection, which I like a lot. The main shot and reflex are not even in brightness; Marshall hadn't intended them to be. The way to even them out--if you wanted to-- is three fold: 1) use a split ND filter on the top section; 2)use an occulting board (a mask) and cover the top section for most of the time exposure(this is only practical for long time exposures, say over 2 seconds); 3) take two separate shots and combine them later with layering. I am an old fogie and I like choice 2. This is not typical.

    Marshall, what would you estimate you would need if you had chosen to even out the reflex? My guess would be close to 2 stops on this shot.
     
  14. Dave's shot is an excellent example of why lots of people love to take reflex shots--it really let's you 'paint with light'.
     
  15. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    In a lot of cases the reflection is darker than the "original." If the difference is small, like within 1 stop (which can easily be determined with a spot meter), I wouldn't use any graduated ND filter. However, if the difference is more like 2 stops or more, I would darken the top (original) part with a GND filter to make it more even. Otherwise, if the top part is correctly exposed, the reflection will be too dark.
    <P>
    <IMG SRC="http://www.photo.net/photodb/image-display?photo_id=1423243&size=md">
    <P>
    This image was shot at a place famous for its lakes, granite, peaks, and color. However, it was taken on April 7 this year (2003) when the snow was melting and there was plenty of water. I too am planning to return next month for possible fall colors, but I wouldn't expect nearly as much water there in the fall -- Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite National Park. In the case the reflection is about a stop darker and I didn't use any GND filter.
     
  16. A polarizer sometimes actaully helps, depending on the angle. You see polarizers work when the subject is at 90 degrees from the lens. when shooting a reflection from whats on the bank, the subject casting the reflection would be more like 170 degress, the sky reflection on the other hand would be 90, so you can take glare out of the sky with a polarizer and leave what is in front of you in the reflection. One thing I learned the hard way is to watch for the bath tub ring effect, a dead area above the water where nothing is growning, this often times happens in the fall when water levels are low. Careful with slow shutter speeds as it can blur you reflection, shich can be good or bad.
    005tyb-14304984.jpg
     
  17. In my previous post, I meant to say when the subject being reflected is 90 degrees from the surface that is doing the reflecting. It would of course not be possible for it to be 90 degrees from the lens, lol
     
  18. Thanks everyone, for all the great answers...lots of stuff I hadn't thought about...in particular I hadn't thought about the exposure differences between the object and the reflector and how it might help to compensate for this with ND filters.

    As far as angles, the advice has been really useful. I will think of water as a mirror -- a moving, flowing mirror -- and figure out what angle the mirror needs to be 'held' relative to the object to get the desired framing in the mirror; and then I will set my tripod up for that angle. (I think a lower vertical angle produces a longer reflection and a higher angle a shorter one. I'm guessing a 45 degree angle might be the sweet spot if you want to maintain the most realistic proportions in the reflection.)

    There can't be too much light on the mirror -- ambient light in a room is better than a light aimed directly at a mirror or a light completely behind a mirror. But the better (but not necessarily stronger) the light on the object, the better the light will be in the reflection. Even in the pitch dark, if a light is cast upon an object, you will see that light and that object in a mirror. This concept should work for the moon and for moonlight shining on objects reflected in water.

    The examples have been brilliant. I have studied them and have learned a lot from them. This is fun. If anyone has any more great shots like these, please share.
     
  19. Hi Bob, I am a self-taught freelance photographer. I haven't understood much of the technicality in your post, but here is a response. (Meditation on a reflection)
    005u9M-14308984.jpg
     
  20. Marshall, what would you estimate you would need if you had chosen to even out the reflex? My guess would be close to 2 stops on this shot.
    Good question. I'm not sure if my memory of this is accurate, but I think I had a 2-stop ND on for that shot. So, it probably would have taken 3-stops to get close to even, possibly 4. I didn't try variations because, well, the scene wasn't quite working for me. It was gorgeous, and a good angle, but I needed a 20mm lens, and I don't have one. I grabbed a few shots there while the light was in the right place, but didn't have time to get quite the right angle for that shot (no scouting done, I'm afriad).
    Also, one other quick thought about direct light on the water; I think it's not quite the same as a mirror, because the direct light also has the effect of lighting what's below the surface of the water. That can be really cool or not, but it's a factor, especially in shallow water.
    Interesting stuff. Onward.
     
  21. i havent read the responses so this may be redundant but here are a couple of tips from me.

    "-What causes good reflections? Do you just have to be lucky and be there when good reflections occur?" I find the best reflections are soon after sunrise ESPECIALLY on a windless or slightly windy morning. wind is the #1 culprit in losing reflections. work as fast as you could before the wind picks up.

    "-Where do you want to be (what angle do you want to shoot relative to the water and relative to the sun)?" Most of the time I am shooting in shadows so it almost doesnt matter what angle the sun is at.

    "-What kind of filters (e.g. no polarizer)?" Half grey neutral density filter is important but i dont use it as often as i should. This will help if the scene is high in contrast. Usually the reflection is a lot darker than the rest of the scene, hence a need for the nd filter.

    "-What kind of film? I assume Velvia 50 is good." I used to go with velvia 50 for the finer grain, but now i use provia 100 because it gives me more latitude or more stops to capture shadows. I will be interested in testing velvia 100 with these scenes this fall.

    "-How do I get a reflection of the moon and a peak in the water? Is there anything different for night shooting?" The proper exposure of the moon and the proper exposure of the scene will probably be on opposite ends of the spectrum virtually making this photograph impossible to create. general rule would be to double expose the moon and the scene. i dont know how to do this yet, but will try in the future. generally, night scenes need a lot more exposure than usual, so a good, sturdy tripod, a shutter release cable and time is what you need. time exposure can be very cool and dramamtic.

    good luck.

    larry
     
  22. "If you want the sharpest reflection wouldn't you want a short shutter speed to reduce blur from the motion of the water?"

    I would suggest to bracket around. yes, a faster shutter speed would reduce blur from the motion, but...a slower shutter speed may produce a blur from that motion that will give the reflection a painterly type feel to it. i personally, like that painterly type reflection the best.
     
  23. I love working with water! Haven't read the whole discussion yet, but I wanted to mention composition. Try several different angles, including sideways and up/down... even a small change can make the water and/or reflection look different. Also, the same place can look quite different as the hours go by. Go back to previous locations and try again... go at night use the moonlight instead of the sunlight. Don't forget to shade the lens (easy to forget in complex compositions)
     
  24. Here's a last one from me, Bob. I was hoping someone else might proffer one of those 'even' reflection shots, but frankly most people are pretty covetous of them for discussion purposes. Why give the 'secret' away?:) Here's one of a large, dark, still puddles at a small grazing angle. I was about 6 inches off the ground and this distant shot used a 200mm telephoto. I was using my occulting board (mask) and had about 5 people ask: "what are you doing?... Are you taking pictures of cards?..Is there a fish in the puddle?" (I enjoy the banter but it is distracting.) And so on. I took 10 shots; this one turned out fine. Others did not. It was a 5 second exposure at f/22 with a 1 stop ND filter (full) and a polarizer. Pretty dark thru the lense and almost totally dark on the DOF preview. I guessed, and I experimented. You should too! The top was exposed for about 2 second,the bottom the full 5 seconds. A ND split filter would have been MUCH easier.
    005uWD-14318784.jpg
     
  25. Here's a little snow pond that made a great reflection of Half Dome. I used a polarized filter (probabaly more than needed... should have backed off) but a little adjustment in levels brought out the reflection fairly well. Most of the images posted on this thread are outstanding, but a few are over saturated for my tastes. I love the close up of the small waterfall... I have a similar shot at a wider angle view and wish I had got closer! There is so much variety in water reflections... endless possibilities (like I said, try different compositions/angles) Don't get stuck on the ususal sun behind you shots... try everything. At the beach, I found some really good angles with the sun just out of frame, and anything in and around the water can take on dramatic look when sidelit or backlit. You can even try stopping down and getting a "sunburst" effect in the relfection. Recently I saw a nice image on the photo sritique forum, where the reflection was the entire composition and the gentle ripples in the water defined it as a reflection shot (it was a building... not nature, but still a good example) The ability of water, both still or in motion (ripples, flowing, mist, ect.) to create wonderful color effects is fascinating. If you want to think of it as a mirror, think of it as a flexible mirror that can take any shape or form (like that terminator movie... liquid metal) It can also function as a lens, a prism or almost any other optical element. In the winter, snow and ice can add other interesting effects, and so can clouds, fog and even star-trails (at night) I once got a beautiful shot of a tree silhuoette and the moon relfecting off the water at a local lake, but I accidently stayed past closing and got locked in the gate. Just as I was taking the shot, the sheriff showed up and hit me with his spotlight... ruined the shot by blowing out the tree. By the way, by doing this at night by moonlight, you can get really long silky water effects... might make for some surreal reflections.
    005uZk-14321384.jpg
     
  26. GSND filters are invaluable when shooting scenes involving reflections. However, if not used correctly they can do more harm than good, IMO. You don't want to use one that is too "strong" such that the reflection becomes lighter than what is being reflected...somthing that is a physical impossibility. You want about a one stop difference between your subject and it's relfection, the reflection being the darker of the two. Spot meter your subject and the identical area of it's reflection and choose the strength of your filter accordingly. For example if you meter a spot on a mountain and meter the same area on its refection and the subject area is 3 stops brighter than the same area in the reflection then use a 2-stop GSND. If there is a one stop difference then I wouldn't use one.
     
  27. I placed another 'even' reflection shot in my portfolio: A foliage shot from 1992. This was taken from a tripod mount in a canoe. You'll see the tradeoff, such as cutting the top of the field and cutting the bottom of the reflection. 35mm wide angle. Wider angle didn't look as good. Enjoy.
     

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