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Tips for Water Reflection Shots?

bob k , Sep 02, 2003; 12:49 p.m.

Next month I will go to a place famous for its lakes, granite, peaks and color. There should be some dramatic reflection shots available with color and peaks reflecting in the water.

Has anyone thought out the science and technique of water reflection shots? I would appreciate any tips you can think of.

-What causes good reflections? Do you just have to be lucky and be there when good reflections occur?

-What are the best conditions for the best reflections. I.e. where do you want the sun to be (angle from the surface, angle between the sun, the target and you, do you want it behind you to the side, etc.) If I want to get good reflection shots what time should I plan my visits to the lakes and which side of the lakes should I be on?

-Where do you want to be (what angle do you want to shoot relative to the water and relative to the sun)?

-What kind of filters (e.g. no polarizer)?

-What kind of shutter speeds produce what effects?

-What kind of film? I assume Velvia 50 is good.

-How do I get a reflection of the moon and a peak in the water? Is there anything different for night shooting?

Anything else?

Responses


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nathan cohen , Sep 02, 2003; 01:17 p.m.

Too many (good) questions. I will help with a couple.

The best reflection shots happen with well illuminated subjects against a clear blue sky. That means the sun should not be in front but in back of your position.

Use a circular polarizer and remove it if you don't like it.

The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, so often--but not always--that means getting at a near grazing angle. Expect to hunker down a lot.

Often, but not always, the best shots are with still water. And the best candidates for still water are very shallow ponds, and especially puddles.

Its often more interesting to have something in the water itself be visible, either by sticking or growing out of it.

Use a tripod.

Smooth out the water a bit with long (1-4 second) exposures. Stop down. Use f/16 or smaller for great depth of field.

Expose for the reflection and then drop down on shutter speed.

Use a ND filter if you have it, but don't use it as a crutch. Typically an occulting board works as well. I used an occulting board on my 'self similar' shot (in my portfolio) a few weeks back.

Teach yourself to see the reflection rather than the water, It takes a bit of effort IMO. Learn from others experience and mistakes. Here's an attached example:-) My friend had the wrong angle from this vantage point. I rib him about it with this shot.


Oops! Wrong shot! (c) 2002 Nathan Cohen

Marshall Goff , Sep 02, 2003; 01:19 p.m.

Yep, people have thought out the science of reflections, and hopefully someone will post something about it (I'm not expert enough at the science to do it justice).

The strongest reflections tend to be when light is relatively low and direct on the object you want to see reflected, but not directly on the surface you want to see the reflections in. That is, the mountain in light and the water without direct light. But that's no hard and fast rule. If you have good conditions, the angle for shooting can be largely a result of your compositional choices. Let your eye guide you as much as the science.

Polarizers are worthwhile when working with reflections because they help control the amount of reflected light you get. Essentially you can slightly enhance the effect or wipe it out entirely. Fortunately, you can see what you're getting in the viewfinder.

The shutter speeds when shooting reflections tend to be dictated by the DOF requirements. Great reflections with long exposures are possible in still water. Of course, moving water is no reason not to try shots, but they will be different.

Use the films you like. They don't respond to reflected light differently than they respond to direct light. Some have greater latitude or contrast than others, and that can be a factor. In fact, many people use split-ND filters to control the contrast between a scene and its reflection, but you can overdo that too...

Hope that helps a little. Experiment and enjoy.

bob k , Sep 02, 2003; 05:55 p.m.

Thanks for the great answers. Please my follow up comments below.

The best reflection shots happen with well illuminated subjects against a clear blue sky. That means the sun should not be in front but in back of your position.

So in the morning get shots facing northwest (assuming you want the southeastern sun behind you) and towards late afternoon get shots facing northeast.

Use a circular polarizer and remove it if you don't like it.

I was thinking that polarizers would just cut through and lessen the reflection. How does a polarizer enhance the reflection?

The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, so often--but not always--that means getting at a near grazing angle. Expect to hunker down a lot.

Okay: get close to the lake and as flat to the reflection as possible (and still get it in the frame.)

Often, but not always, the best shots are with still water. And the best candidates for still water are very shallow ponds, and especially puddles.

Good point. The place I'm going has very shallow alpine lakes.

Its often more interesting to have something in the water itself be visible, either by sticking or growing out of it.

Okay.

Use a tripod.

It's heavy, but I'm carrying one in.

Smooth out the water a bit with long (1-4 second) exposures. Stop down. Use f/16 or smaller for great depth of field.

If you want the sharpest reflection wouldn't you want a short shutter speed to reduce blur from the motion of the water?

Expose for the reflection and then drop down on shutter speed.

Not sure about this...can you elaborate?

Use a ND filter if you have it, but don't use it as a crutch. Typically an occulting board works as well. I used an occulting board on my 'self similar' shot (in my portfolio) a few weeks back.

I have a couple good singh-ray filters that I use.

nathan cohen , Sep 02, 2003; 06:01 p.m.

Bob,

Here's another shot. I pose it as an extreme. It is a velvia shot from a foot off the bank of a lake in MA. Dawn. I knew the color would be great, but I wanted something more dramatic. I used two flashes for fill flash. One was two feet to my right and the other 5 feet from my right. One was focused down at the log in the water, the other was diffuse. I ended up with light from three sources reflecting on the water (through the bounce of course). I got a full-day effect on the logs and trees and a dawn reflection on the water (mostly). I pose this, again, as a very demanding reflection shot but wanted you to know that it is a very creative and fun option.

If you wish, I will put up one or two more easier but neat examples.


Swampy dawn (c) 1995 Nathan Cohen

bob k , Sep 02, 2003; 06:11 p.m.

Again, great answers. Please see my comments below.

The strongest reflections tend to be when light is relatively low and direct on the object you want to see reflected, but not directly on the surface you want to see the reflections in. That is, the mountain in light and the water without direct light. But that's no hard and fast rule. If you have good conditions, the angle for shooting can be largely a result of your compositional choices. Let your eye guide you as much as the science.

So you need something that blocks out the sun from the lake but not the objects on the other side of the like? Something like a peak or trees behind you on the near bank, and then wait for the sun to rise just above that.

Polarizers are worthwhile when working with reflections because they help control the amount of reflected light you get. Essentially you can slightly enhance the effect or wipe it out entirely. Fortunately, you can see what you're getting in the viewfinder.

That's a good point -- even though I'm not sure why it would, I can try looking to see if the polarizer can help.

The shutter speeds when shooting reflections tend to be dictated by the DOF requirements. Great reflections with long exposures are possible in still water. Of course, moving water is no reason not to try shots, but they will be different.

I guess it matters how still the water is and how clear you want the reflection or if you want a blurred effect just to capture the colors. I will definitely experiment to see what I can come up with.

Thanks for the great answers.

bob k , Sep 02, 2003; 06:13 p.m.

Fantastic shot, Nathan.

Yes, please post other examples. Those are very useful.

Thanks.

nathan cohen , Sep 02, 2003; 06:21 p.m.

<<Thanks for the great answers. Please my follow up comments below. The best reflection shots happen with well illuminated subjects against a clear blue sky. That means the sun should not be in front but in back of your position.

So in the morning get shots facing northwest (assuming you want the southeastern sun behind you) and towards late afternoon get shots facing northeast. >>

Yes.

<<Use a circular polarizer and remove it if you don't like it.

I was thinking that polarizers would just cut through and lessen the reflection. How does a polarizer enhance the reflection? >>

It enhances contrast by blocking out selected reflections and darkening the sky--in certain directions away from the sun. This allows the highly polarized colors, if sought, to dominate over the otherwise glaring parts, if present. A CP will be adjustable to taste for extremes or in betweens.

<<The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection, so often--but not always--that means getting at a near grazing angle. Expect to hunker down a lot.

Okay: get close to the lake and as flat to the reflection as possible (and still get it in the frame.) >>

Usually; again, look around and see what looks best.

<<Often, but not always, the best shots are with still water. And the best candidates for still water are very shallow ponds, and especially puddles.

Good point. The place I'm going has very shallow alpine lakes. >>

These will be great if pond scum and pond grass and lilly pads don't dominate:-)

<<Its often more interesting to have something in the water itself be visible, either by sticking or growing out of it.

Okay. >>

Some folks like throwing a ND filter in to get the reflection the same brightness as the main shot. Then they have a (surface breaking)rock or pond grass in the foreground to add tension.

<<Use a tripod.

It's heavy, but I'm carrying one in. >>

Even a cheapo light one is good.

<<Smooth out the water a bit with long (1-4 second) exposures. Stop down. Use f/16 or smaller for great depth of field.

If you want the sharpest reflection wouldn't you want a short shutter speed to reduce blur from the motion of the water? >>

The best reflections happen with very still water, or very blurred water. Freezing water motion only tends to be distracting from the reflection.

<<Expose for the reflection and then drop down on shutter speed.

Not sure about this...can you elaborate?>>

If you expose for the reflection and don't compensate, the main shot will be overexposed. This way the main shot is less likely to overexpose and the reflection will be slightly underexposed. In extremes, the main shot will be just too bright and you'll have to use a 2 or 3 stop ND filter to equalize it; thus my comment below.

<<Use a ND filter if you have it, but don't use it as a crutch. Typically an occulting board works as well. I used an occulting board on my 'self similar' shot (in my portfolio) a few weeks back.

I have a couple good singh-ray filters that I use.>>

Ah! Good man.

Greg Miller , Sep 02, 2003; 07:48 p.m.

Re: why the longer exposure can improve the reflection: This shot was at 1 second, the shot in my next post was at 3 seconds. The longer exposure averages everything out and the reflection appears smoother.


1 second exposure

Greg Miller , Sep 02, 2003; 07:49 p.m.

3 second exposure


3 second exposure

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