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Mirror image

Creating a mirror image

Shoot for Greatness: How to Mirror the Moment

By: CDLC Editor

January 30, 2018

Look at any nature photography collection or wildlife calendar, and you’ll find scenes of majestic landscapes reflecting on clear pools of water. Reflection photography, also known as mirror photography, uses bodies of water, mirrors and other reflective surfaces to create an echo of a scene. Incorporating reflections into compositions adds interest and depth, transforming ordinary images into works of art.

Bird reflection over water

Photo by Eric Stoner

Capturing reflections is made simple with the advanced technology inside your Canon EOS DSLR camera. The hardest part of outdoor reflection photography is waiting for the winds to calm so you can take your shot. With a little patience and some experimentation, you’ll be snapping vibrant reflection shots in rain puddles in no time.

Essential Equipment

  • DSLR camera


  • If you’re shooting close to water or taking photos during inclement weather, consider taking some waterproofing precautions. You may want to use a rain cover to protect the body of your camera if you’re photographing puddles right after a storm, in case you get caught in a surprise downpour.

1. Choose your Reflective Surface

When planning a reflection photography shoot, you should first consider the type of reflective surface you want to use. Not all surfaces produce the same quality of reflection.

In outdoor photography, the most common reflective surface is water. Cityscapes and nature photos are more dynamic with skyscrapers and mountains mirrored onto still rivers and lakes. Shooting reflections in larger bodies of water can be a timing challenge because wind, birds or boats easily agitate their surfaces.

Skyscrapers and mountains

Photo by Alex Strohl

Rain puddles are great for capturing reflections of scenery and people, as these shallow pools of water are less likely to be impacted by wind gusts. After a heavy rainfall, puddles form on almost any surface and often take unusual shapes. Photographers can also create puddles anywhere day or night to add dramatic reflections to photo shoots.

Smooth surfaces such as mirrors and glass are reliable sources for reflection in cityscapes and indoor photo sessions. Reflective surfaces like moving water, polished metal and coated plastic lack the same intensity as mirrors and still water, but they can create abstract, otherworldly effects when used.

2. Select your Camera Mode

The key to reflection photography is focus. For the clearest possible mirror reflection of subjects in motion, you need a fast shutter speed and an aperture setting that brings the foreground and background into focus.

To control the focus or the depth-of-field in your composition, use your camera’s Av (Aperture Priority) mode, which lets you select the lens opening or aperture. Choose a larger number like f/16 to allow for greater depth-of-field. The larger the number, the more in focus the foreground to background is.

Night scene

Photo by Rodrigo Trevino

Depending on the scenery and type of action you want to shoot, you can also experiment with Scene modes. Choose Landscape mode to capture birds in flight over a calm lake scene or switch to Sports mode to catch the reflection of someone leaping next to a fountain. Turn the Mode dial to select your scene and use the sliders on the Quick Control screen to adjust settings for lighting, exposure and image color.

When choosing your lens, a compact 18-55mm standard zoom lens with Image Stabilization and continuous autofocus (AF) can handle virtually any scene, whether you’re shooting wide-angle landscapes or capturing high-speed action in a puddle.

3. Consider Lighting and Exposure

Reflection photography is largely dependent on the quality of available natural light. Arrive at your location early to scope out different angles, check cloud coverage and track the sun’s position. You’ll find photographing the same spot at different times of day can produce very different results.

The best times to capture reflections on calm water are early morning when winds tend to be lighter and the “blue hour” — the time just after the sun dips below the horizon.

Early morning blue hour scene

Photo by Eric Stoner

Reflections perceived by human eye don’t always translate well to images because water-based reflections are processed roughly two f-stops darker than the subject being reflected. The easiest way to balance the composition and expose the foreground correctly is to attach a two-stop graduated neutral density (ND Grad) filter to your lens. The ND grad filter is semi-transparent gray on one end and clear at the other, to restrict light transfer by two f-stops to your lens to ensure the sky doesn’t get overexposed while shooting reflections in water. Attach the filter to your lens and line up the darkest part of the graduated filter over the sky to balance out the exposure. This accessory takes the guesswork out of manually adjusting exposure compensation, improves the quality of image and reduces the amount of post-process work.

4. Experiment with Composition

Whereas traditional photography composition generally follows the rule of thirds, reflection photography relies on symmetry to create that mesmerizing echo effect. While exploring different viewpoints to find the angle at which the reflection is most visible, remember to keep the horizon line centered in your composition.


Photo by Eric Stoner

Using your camera’s Vari-angle LCD screen (on compatible models), it’s possible to shoot interesting reflections from almost any angle. The articulating swivel screen has a wide range of movement to accommodate a variety of shooting situations and awkward positions. When you’re shooting a puddle reflection, the swivel screen helps you find the perfect angle without needing to be eye-level with the puddle yourself. Simply point your camera lens at your subject and adjust the LCD screen so you can compose your shot in Live View instead of through the viewfinder.

While in Live View, you’ll also be able to check the depth-of-field in your composition to ensure the entire scene is focused the way you want. Press the Depth-of-Field Preview button (on compatible cameras) for an onscreen approximation of the depth-of-field as it will appear in the final image.

5. Add Action to Your Reflection

When shooting staged reflection scenes, you generally have the luxury of taking time to plot out angles and experiment with camera settings. Shooting spontaneous action proves to be a bigger challenge if you can’t predict when and where the movement will happen.

Using a Canon DSLR, you only need to have your finger on the shutter to be ready to capture impromptu movements like a brace of flying ducks reflected on a pond’s surface. To capture the full range of action in a series of still images, select AI Servo focusing (continuous focusing) along with Continuous Shooting in Drive Mode to take pictures in sequence during action.

Flying duck effect in water

Photo by Eric Stoner

Whether you’re out on a photo safari or attending an event, always look for reflective surfaces to practice your techniques. Catch puddle splashers mid-splash or buskers juggling near a fountain. Experiment with capturing action in reflection by snapping photos of your cat leaping for a toy by a mirror or your dog jumping into the backyard pool.

Once you’ve mastered the reflection photography technique, you may find more ways to incorporate it into ordinary compositions. From birds flying alongside a skyscraper to balloons drifting above a rain puddle, you never know when the inspiration to reflection will strike. Keep your Canon DSLR on hand, and you’ll always be ready to capture those spontaneous moments in life.