Water Reflection Photography Techniques

Reflection Photography by Scott Slone

Old Alaska hunting lodge and cabins at sunset.

Water is an excellent subject for reflective surfaces for photography. Using the right approach with a creative imagination, you can make some incredible images.

Reflection photography takes the ordinary and make them into something surreal, eye-catching and unique while allowing your audience to see things from a different light. This is why waterfronts make winning subjects. When I’m looking at a body of water to shoot reflection, winds ultimately dictate the direction I’m going to photograph.

Let’s jump in and get started!

Photography by Scott Slone Old Cabin on Kenai Lake Alaska

Old Cabin on Kenai Lake Alaska

Consider your subject.

Reflections offer a slight challenge to composition, because an image can appear too flat if depth isn’t considered. Water reflections are often one stop down, so you’ll want to use this to your advantage when building depth into your composition. Depth of field is another item on your list to factor in to your photography, a higher ƒ/stop helps with this.

Utilizing the landscape is also another great way to draw peoples eye to the subject and can bring depth photograph. The distance between the body of water and your subject is another item that helps with depth and story. Using the rule of thirds brings balance, for example more sky than body of water, or vice versa.

Photography by Scott Slone

Lake front cabins reflect on a calm lake at the foot of the Kenai Mountain Range, Alaska.

Photography and Calm Water

Your best opportunity for calm water photography is going to be in the early morning hours, and if you live in a place like Alaska it’s also a chance to have wildlife be a part of your composition.

It’s important to remember sun plays a huge roll in wind, a great sunset reflection shot may quickly bring wind as the sun drops below the horizon. In this shot, the sun was breaking the horizon behind the fog, you can see the water in the distance begin to show wind patterns.

Reflections on glass smooth waters can lent to symmetry in your photographs, and like this photo I was able to calm that contrast embracing the early morning fog. Consider your elements, try to tell a story and look for opportunities for depth.

Photography by Scott Slone Little Campbell Lake

Morning fog before sunrise on a still Little Campbell Lake in Anchorage.

Turbulent Waters

When you’re looking at a fast moving body of water or windy surface conditions, turbulent waters with a longer exposure can offer an abstract effect or surreal feel to your photography. Look at your body of moving water and look for shadows and points of contrast, long exposure is going to pull those out while smoothing out the motion. You’ll also want to look at light reflecting on the surface, try to imagine the rough areas smoothed over.

It may take you some time to shift and train your mind to see things a little different, but the more your practice making test shots, the better you’ll become fluent with these compositions.

Photography by Scott Slone

Location Scouting

Get to know your locations, scout them often if possible. The more you know about your subject the better your results and range of opportunities. If you don’t have the time to scout your locations, exercise the habit to allow yourself a few minutes to digest the scene, you allowing your eyes to adjust to the light. Study the area from different positions, even a slight decrease or increase of elevation can change the subject all together.

I talk more about location scouting in a future post.

Recommended Tools

Windy, shows up to the hour wind patterns.
Sunseeker, provides me important details about sunrise and sunset.

Neutral Density Filters

An ND filter is a semi-transparent glass filter that is mounted on your lens, that precisely controls the amount of light uniformly that comes through your camera lens. This is a handy tool in your bag because the reduced light enables longer exposure times. We offer workshops on how to use neutral density filters on our Alaska Photo Tours!

There are enough tutorials for ND filters online, so rather than creating another, here’s a good one from Adrorama TV.