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Composition and Exposure
Revealing Reflections

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

Mirrors, windows and shiny surfaces can add a new dimension.

Here's a technique for you to use whether you have a simple compact digital camera or a sophisticated digital SLR. Add an element of surprise, color, and abstraction to your photographs with reflections!


Mirrors and windows are obvious sources, but any surface that reflects light is fair game. Shiny floors, car hoods, water all reflect.

Each reflective surface affects light differently. Some surfaces, such as windows and mirrors, are smooth and the reflections look pretty real (unless they are curved, which causes interesting distortions). Others, like choppy water or textured surfaces, superimpose their own patterns over the reflected light, creating interesting abstracts.


Floored: The shiny but slightly patterned floor in the waiting area for the Staten Island Ferry in Manhattan turns reflected light from a sign and windows into a semi-abstract design. Note the pigeon in the upper left! Camera: Canon Digital Rebel XTi and 18-55mm zoom lens. Photo by Mason Resnick.

You can fill the frame with a reflection or use it as one of many elements. I prefer mixing reflective and non-reflective elements and watch them play off each other visually.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Stay out of the reflection. Make sure you aren't standing directly in front facing a reflective surface, or else you'll be in the picture.

2. Don't focus on the reflective surface. Instead, focus on what is reflected, which will be treated as farther away. The exception? If the reflective surface itself adds to the image (as in the floor photo, above). Not sure? Try it both ways!

Sky high: Steel-and-glass skyscraper in lower Manhattan cuts across the sky, adding an interesting element to an otherwise average shot of clouds. Camera: Ricoh GR Digital. Photo by Mason Resnick.

 

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