Happiness is a lot like clicking water… take the right steps and every moment becomes a representation of ecstasy. Clicking water is all about removing every little obstacle that is in the way of a good image. A good landscape photo needs an interesting foreground, mid-ground and background. Reflective photographs come up with their additional challenges. Reflections are all about balance and symmetry in the frame. However, there are a few guidelines that will make sure that one captures better reflections. A few steps that will go a long way to making every shot of water a lasting memory are mentioned below. I am sure these guidelines will help the budding photographer within each of us besides helping us capture waterbodies and reflections on water beautifully.
Finding Still Water
The first requirement in photographing reflections is still water. Most of us think we need large water bodies to get those lovely reflections. But even a small puddle is, in many instances, good enough. What is more important is that it should be still. Even a slight breeze can cause air-induced ripples and this can make clear reflections difficult. It is believed that smaller and shallower water bodies give better reflections most of the time. The lesser the wind/ breeze, the better will be the reflections.
Someone once remarked that it is difficult to see your own reflection in boiling water… obviously implying that truth cannot be seen when the mind is ruffled and full of ripples of worldly worries. Both still water and a calm mind are essential in the world of photography so far as capturing reflections on water are concerned.
- Tripod When it comes to photographing reflections, a good tripod is a must. A tripod that allows you to get as low would be most preferable. Stability and performance go together in photography and this device leads to sharper and clearer output particularly when shooting in low light or where there is motion of any type that will need to be stilled without any blur. A blur, as we all know, is what is the main culprit in a bad photo.
- Lens Next comes selecting the lens. A wide or an ultra-wide-angle lens is desirable in most cases. What works best for me is a focal range between 15mm to 30mm (on full-frame). So far as a lens is concerned, a wide-angle is often used in clicking a landscape because of the increased perception of what the human eye sees. While clicking a reflection a photographer correctly captures the entire scene and not just a part… and if it is a part needed later, there is always the tool of cropping a picture. In photography, it is better to have a wider perspective and then crop than have a narrowed down one where the possibility of adding details is simply not there.
Below are a few recommended settings for a good reflection shot:
- As with most landscape photographs, sticking to your base ISO or somewhere close to it is the way to go. Most of us already know that the widest dynamic range, as well as the lowest amount of noise in images is achieved at base ISO. A good photographer will know instinctively when an increase in ISO is going to be essential.
- Generally a smaller aperture works well. As a standard practice, I try to use the aperture in which the lens yields maximum sharpness. For most fast lenses, the best aperture is generally at the f/8. My general aperture recommendation would be f/8 or smaller (depending on the subject distance).
Another reason for a smaller aperture in size and higher in number is to achieve the maximum depth-of-field.
- There are two possible shutter speeds that can be used depending upon one’s preference. A shutter speed of at least 1/250 is desirable if you want the reflections to be sharp. On the other hand, a smooth reflection will call for an extremely slow shutter speed which results in a sharp subject and a soft, blurred out water body around the subject, making it stand out.
- Get as close and to a low angle as possible. Sometimes you might end up with your feet and your tripod legs in the water to get to an angle where the bottom tip of your lens is barely a few inches above the surface.
- Mind the leading lines. They are rather important in any landscape photograph. They are even more important when you are photographing reflections, as one of the primary objectives is to attain a sense of symmetry.
- Have some negative space around your subject and its reflection. A very tight composition might have all the technical ingredients of a picture, but most of the time it lacks emotion.
- Include clouds in your frame. With the subject and its reflection, the mid-ground and the foreground is taken care of. But a blank cloudless sky looks boring unless you deliberately seek to make the image abstract.
- Most of the time we seek to get geometrical mirror images. But do not limit yourself to just that. Get creative – sometimes even distorted reflections of a subject might turn up interesting.
In the ultimate analysis, water is an easy subject but at times it tends to be difficult to capture and interpret. Water and reflections on water captured well are not just aesthetically brilliant but invariably have multiple interpreted messages for almost everyone.