Reflecting On Full Reflections

When it comes to nature photography, including reflections can be a powerful visual aid to the image.  Especially appealing are full reflections, when done properly and of those, perfect “mirror” reflections can be the most pleasing, although some slightly distorted reflections work very well too.

Generally the best time to come across opportunities for reflections for those of us living in colder regions is, of course, during non-winter months when water is not frozen-over .  Even more specific, for everyone, is early morning when the wind has not yet picked up and distorted the water surface.

A couple of things to keep in mind when creating reflection images.  First, you’ll want to be at  a higher vantage point.  One of the rare times you will not see me crawling in the muck when photographing shorebirds is when I am working on reflections – I’ll be either kneeling or standing fully upright for those.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/800s., f/5.6, ISO 800.

Second, you’ll want to make sure your image is level.  Best is in-camera of course and easiest when using a tripod, but when handholding it can be difficult to keep the gear perfectly level, especially when following moving birds.  It is not uncommon to have to level the image in post by a degree or two.  However you get to it, you just need to make sure that the final product is level as a tilted horizon is very distracting.  If ever you need to level the image in post, reflection images are the easiest to do so with:  just use the ruler tool and make a line from two identical points – start from the actual subject down to the reflection.  Once done go to (in Photoshop) image>image rotation>arbitrary… and it is rotated automatically and perfectly.  In the image below, for example, you would draw that line from the center or edge of the pupil, down to the center or edge of the same pupil in the reflection.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser, juvenile, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/400s., f/5.6, ISO 800.

Third, when dealing with full reflections you will need to be aware of the space you leave below.  you need to make sure to leave nough room to include the whole reflection, plus some additional space to the edge.  You do not want the bottom edge to skim across the top of the head or back, or halfway across the face.  You also need to think of the actual subject + its reflection as a whole entity when composing the image.  Without a reflection, the subjects would be normally considered placed way too high in the frame, but with the addition of their reflections the compositions are well balanced.

When talking about full reflections, that does not mean a full subject.  You can create tighter portraits, but include the full reflection of that.  In the example below I had too much lens, but rather than pulling out the 100-400mm lens or removing the teleconverter I opted to go for tighter portraits with reflections.  Note the perfectly levelled image, and with enough room below the reflection.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck, male molting into breeding plumage, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/400s., f/7.1, ISO 800.

Silhouetted full reflections are one of my favorites to create, and they are some of the most dramatic and visually graphic types of images.  On those very early calm and clear mornings, just when the sun is peering over the horizon, it is understandably tempting to photograph your subjects splashed with “sweet” light, but turn around and look to see if you have some silhouette opportunities behind you.  It is amazing what can be just within reach just by looking behind.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/2000s., f/7.1, ISO 800.

With the snow and ice now melting, these opportunities will become more common until next winter comes around.  Of course, full reflection images are not only limited to birds!  Look around, and include those on any beautiful scene to add colour, drama, and pleasing shapes and lines to almost any type of natural setting.  Best of all, have fun creating them!

Petrie Island Autumn Scene

Petrie Island, Ottawa, Canon 7D + Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 @42mm, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/320s., f/11, ISO 800.


Muskrat, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/250s., f/5.6, ISO 800.







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  1. William Dickson April 18, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    Beautiful images, as usual Dan. Thanks for the info about the reflections.
    I will be more confident now, going for those type of shots. 🙂

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