How To Play With Reflections in Your Photography

Image: O-Renzo via deviantart

As I head into my third month of life abroad in Spain, I have yet to tire of taking pictures of everything I see around me.

I have tired, however, of taking what feels like the same picture over and over again.

Take, for example, this one I snapped on the walk home from the English school where I teach:


There’s nothing necessarily bad about this picture; in fact, I love the blue sky and creamy yellow color of the building. My only issue is that it’s pretty run-of-the-mill. At the end of my journey here in Spain, I want to look back on my travel photos and think, “Wow.”

For that reason, I decided to do a little research into how other photographers make their photos more interesting. The method that caught my eye—no pun intended—was the use of reflections in pictures. Whether you see the outline of a building redrawn in a puddle, a bustling street relayed in a shiny glass window, or the crystals of an old chandelier glittering inside the confines of a mirror’s golden frame, a reflection can turn average pictures into something special.

For a week, I tried to apply this principle to the pictures I took on my phone. I’ll share with you some tips I learned while trying my hand at reflection photos!


Seek out symmetry. This photo below was taken on the same walk home as the first photo I shared. This time, however, I captured it from the other side of the street, with my back to the building I intended to feature:

Image: Andrea Marchiano

The ironwork and crackling wood of the window give so much more character to the image of an old Madrid building, which is reflected clearly in the large windows at the center of the frame.

To be honest, I didn’t do much to set up this shot. I simply saw the reflection coming through crystal clear in the window, and noticed that its composition was somewhat symmetrical: the two iron bars at the center of the shot contain the reflection, while an aging white frame surrounds the entire scene.

Admittedly, this first picture was easy, but some of the others required a bit more work.


Image: Andrea Marchiano

Accept imperfection. In Madrid, many people forego cars for foot travel or motos (motorcycles). I rely on the former, but am thankful for the latter, as it made for an incredibly interesting shot on my quest to incorporate reflections into my photography.

This idea came to me as I walked down the back streets of my neighborhood called Chueca. Here, people park their motos on the sidewalk when they stop into local cafes for lunch. I noticed immediately that the dash of the moto plus its rear-facing mirrors might make for an awesome reflection shot.

It wasn’t as easy to make this picture pretty, though, since I had no control over where the motos were parked nor what their mirrors would reflect. I walked on for a while until I found one with an attractive dashboard that also happened to face a beautiful, plant-covered balcony.

Taking this picture taught me that it’s important to be particular about what’s in the reflection, but you might have to settle for something that’s a little imperfect. The lighting in the mirror almost washes out the balcony, but, in terms of taking a perfectly lit photo with my iPhone, I did the best I could. And the result is still artistic and unique! I think this might be my favorite of the bunch.


Image: Andrea Marchiano

Aim for texture. On another afternoon, I strolled through the gardens at the Royal Palace of Madrid until I found this reflecting pool succeeding at its job. Unlike the previous two images, this reflection isn’t crisp. Instead, the ripples in the water make the reflections imperfect. But this type of texture is just another way to add interest. Play with this a little bit — sometimes, a flat, shiny surface is not nearly as interesting to shoot as a dented, dimpled one.


Image: Dirk Eidner

Image: Dirk Eidner

Of course, these three tips are not exhaustive when it comes to taking a solid reflection shot. Here are a few more tips I gathered on my own and from other photographers who have used the skill before:

  • Be careful with your flash. Reflective surfaces will reflect the light, so it could ruin your shot.
  • Watch out for words that’ll be distracting when reflected backwards.
  • Try out different angles to find one where the reflection is most visible.

Image: Batareykin

  • Play around with distance between the subject and the reflection. Try focusing on the subject, then the reflection.
  • Smooth over imperfections with an Instagram filter or Photoshop session. That’s what I did to make the moto reflection shot stand out more.
  • Take a bunch of shots. Swipe through the images you capture on your smartphone and find the one that best harnesses the reflection. Believe me, none of the above were one-and-done images. It’s all about options, so give yourself a handful when playing with reflections.

Have you ever used reflections to make your images more interesting? What other tricks do you use? Use the comments section to share your ideas!

(Featured Image: O-Renzo)

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Andrea graduated from the University of North Carolina, where she studied journalism and once saw Michael Jordan at a bar. She's currently teaching English in Spain, writing about her experiences, and snapping as many photos of her travels as she possibly can.

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