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Taking Photos of Reflections

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 8/15/2011

Windows can reflect images so profoundly that they can be seen clearly, and that creates an image that is incredibly unique. Here is a look at how to take images of the reflections windows make of your subject.

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    The Reflection

    Cameras are difficult mix of glass and mirrors, and in a lot of ways these objects in front of the lens can be its biggest enemy. Reflective surfaces often cause a great deal of trouble for those taking photos, and this ends up creating a huge issue when trying to shoot in the real world where reflective surfaces are everywhere. This often takes the form of glare or light reflection off of surfaces, such as shiny countertops or even shiny foreheads. There are a lot of practical tools for how to deal with these situations, but what if you actually want to photograph the reflection of an object? This may be easier when the reflective surface is a clean option like a mirror, but photographing the reflection in a widow can be even more difficult. Here is a look at the process you could go in if you trying to figure out how to take a picture of a window reflection.

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    The Right Light

    You Can Include the Subject and Reflection in the Same Shot What you have to consider primarily when figuring out how to take a picture of a window reflection is that you are going to need to make the object that is being reflected brighter than the light on the other side of the window. This gives you a few different options, but you should really work with several of them to find the right balance for your photos.

    First, wait until it is not excessively bright out the window. This means that the middle of the day should be out, but instead go for early morning or evening. You may not want to wait until night sets in entirely because then the blackness will not display that it is a window clearly. If you want to take a picture of a window reflection then you obviously want both the reflected image and the window to be the focus of the shot rather than just the reflected image. Find a nice middle ground so there is an apparent other side to the window, and this can essentially act as your background image.

    The second thing to do is to artificially light your reflection subject, using a higher intensity three point light set up. Since you want to both see them and have their image reflected you will want to conduct the creation of their light set up to be a standard sharp lighting, but understanding that you want them to be lit brighter than they may be otherwise since you will need to bounce their image off of another surface. This is going to be difficult because you do not want to actually reflect direct light off of the window, and you may want to end up dressing them in medium colors so there is no bright glare that comes off of their person onto the reflective surface.

    The important point is that when you see the image in the window it stands out as being identifiable and clear. You may want to use a light meter for this to make sure that the spot reading of the reflection is higher than the rest of the window, to make sure that contrast is legitimate.

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    Photographing reflections is difficult in general because you do not want to end up getting you, the photographer, into the frame. This means that you have to do it from a relatively significant angle so that you are able to capture the image right. Going to the left or right of the subject and then going lower or higher than their posture is a good way to ensure that you will maintain a clear line to the image without actually becoming part of it yourself. There is no concrete formula for how this will work, so instead you have to move around until you find a position that leaves you to the side. You will want to then stabilize the camera so as to cement your position, as there are not going to be a lot of places that work both for getting a good portrait of the reflection and leaving your reflection out of it.

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    Shutter Speed

    Things like glare and motion blur are already going to be an issue in this situation, and since you already are placing a strong lighting pattern onto the subject and they will be brightly lit. This means that you can feel free to bring up the shutter speed to reduce the change of motion glare, keeping it above 1/60 for the majority of the time that you are working. If it is too dark for this then you may already be dealing with a problem, and because of how specific your placement is and the competing images in the window you may not want to change the aperture.


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