Friday Foto Talk: Reflections, Part I   18 comments

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the Snake River.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in the Snake River.

Although I should probably get busy and write the follow-up posts to those series I have going right now on this blog (patterns, life in the universe, the Cascades, etc.), I just can’t help going with what is on my mind at the moment.  What I’ve thought about off and on all day long is light, so that is what I’ll post on for this week’s Friday Foto Talk.

Photographers of all stripes know the importance of good light.  You either create it in the form of strobes, flashes and such, or you take advantage of nature’s own brand (which is of course the finest).  Here in the Pacific NW, we have seen a seemingly unending succession of clear days lately.  Although you can always find something to shoot no matter the light, clear skies mean high contrast and a short golden hour.  But we’ve had clouds move in the last couple days, and I’m elated.

This simple shot from Oregon's Cascade Mountains takes advantage of water's ability to reflect beautiful light that is being itself reflected from the fir trees.

This simple shot from Oregon’s Cascade Mountains takes advantage of water’s ability to reflect beautiful light that is being itself reflected from the fir trees.

If you are serious about photography, you should (no MUST) take advantage of good light.  That means getting  out during the golden hours straddling sunrise and sunset.  You might be excused for not doing this when skies are clear.  But when clouds move in, covering part of the sky, you need to do your best to drop everything and get your butt out there to shoot early or late in the day.

This shot from the Okavango Delta would lack a clear subject if the tree was not reflected so nicely.

This shot from the Okavango Delta would lack a clear subject if the tree was not reflected so nicely.

When the light turns beautiful, I typically seek out ways to magnify that great light.  What can I say, I’m greedy!  There are two ways that light rays can interact with a nice cloud-studded atmosphere in order to sweeten themselves.  One way is refraction, the bending and skittering of light rays between and through molecules of cloud and air. The other way is reflection, the simple bouncing of light from some reflective surface.  Great light is always a combination of these two, and this post focuses on the second: reflection.

Yesterday evening we got the first truly good light we’ve seen in quite some time.  I celebrated by going to my special spot where I never see another person, let alone photographer.  What makes this place so special is the quiet waters of the lower Columbia, ready to take on and make even better all the beautiful light that the heavens can give her.  I went to see her sparkling show, and as mostly happens, she did not disappoint (image below).

Color on the Lower Columbia!

Color on the Lower Columbia!

TYPES OF REFLECTIVE SURFACES

      •  Water: The most common of all reflective surfaces is really your go-to, especially if you’re a landscape photographer.  Whenever you’re looking up at the sky a few hours before sunset and thinking “this could really develop into something”, you should first think of places near water.  Even if you’re not much of a landscape person, maybe you like shooting people/action pictures on a pretty day, remember that everybody likes water, including your potential subjects.
The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

      • Ice/Snow:  Okay I hear ya, these are really water in another form.  But their character is very different.  Ice can indeed act very much like water, in a mirror-like way.  Ice can also refract light, so you’ll get a great combination of effects in some circumstances.  Snow also reflects light, but in a very scattered way.  No mirror here.  I’ve found that depending on the angle of the sunlight and the character of the snow, you can get some pretty fine effects when the light bounces off snow.  You’ve heard Eskimos have a bunch of different words for snow.  Well I think photographers can learn something from Inuits (call them Inuits not Eskimos).
Snow reflects the setting sun from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon.

Snow reflects the setting sun from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon.

      • Rock:  Light-colored rock can reflect light in a very unique way.  Some of the magic of Ansel Adams’ images of the Sierra Nevada were because of the play of light and shadow on the bright granite walls of the mountains.  The color of the rock can impart a definite tone to your subjects (see image below).  Even dark rock, like basalt, can if it is weathered smoothly reflect light in a subtle but attractive manner.
In this evening shot at Zion National Park, the old cabin takes on the color of the canyon walls after the sky's ambient light is reflected from them.

In this evening shot at Zion National Park, the old cabin takes on the color of the canyon walls after the sky’s ambient light is reflected from them.

      • Leaves:  Pay attention to small reflectors.  Leaves can act to bounce light toward or away from you.  Leaves transmit light too, so like ice the angle is worth taking note of and getting right.  You might have either a distracting or a pleasing reflection off the leaves in your composition.
      • Buildings:  The walls and especially the windows on buildings in your cityscapes will invariably reflect some light back at you.  Often the color saturation in light coming from the sky is enhanced when it bounces from the windows of a building.  With walls, it’s basically like rocks.  The lighter-colored and smoother they are, the more reflection you will get.  Again, you’ll need to decide whether the angle of reflection is giving you a distracting or pleasing result.
A Portland, Oregon cityscape is improved by the sky's beautiful light being reflected off the skyscraper.

A Portland, Oregon cityscape is improved by the sky’s beautiful light being reflected off the skyscraper.

      • Bright Ground:  The surfaces you walk on are natural reflectors.  Human-made surfaces tend to be brighter than natural ones, but there are exceptions. Beaches & snow are the best examples, but deposits of calcite (Pamukkale in Turkey or Mammoth in Yellowstone), white granite & marble bedrock, etc. can really bounce the light.  In areas where marble monuments or temples are found, or where the sidewalks and patios are particularly clean and bright, you can use reflection from the ground in several ways.  Providing fill light for portraits is the most obvious example, but you can also use it as you would a body of water during sunrise or sunset.
The nice directional light on this Nicaraguan man's face came largely from the strong sun being reflected off the nearby beach.

The nice directional light on this Nicaraguan man’s face came largely from the strong sun being reflected off the nearby beach.

      • Body Parts:  Eyes are very small but very important reflectors.  Everyone knows about red eye.  To avoid it, don’t use flash on your camera directed right at the person.  But plain old reflection from eyes is something to get just right.  Some of this is done on the computer, but it’s possible to have too much catch-light in a person’s eyes.  Some is good but too much light (or too obvious a reflection of the photographer) is often not attractive.  I won’t mention bald heads, since that is striking a bit too close to home!
This pretty young woman's eyes act as mirrors in this image from Cambodia, creating good catchlights.  But my own reflection is almost too obvious.

This pretty young woman’s eyes mirror the light in this image from Cambodia, creating catchlights. But my own reflection is almost too obvious.

      • Clouds:  Yes, clouds themselves can be a very effective secondary source of light.  When the sun that just set (or has not quite risen) is bouncing light off a large bank of clouds turned a fiery color, you often have enough light (and gorgeous light it is) to turn away from the sunset and photograph the scene behind you.  After sunset it would normally be pretty dark and colorless.  But with this sort of reflection you are given the gift of golden hour plus!  I’ve even noticed that if you have clouds on the opposite side of the sky, light can be reflected twice.  So if you’re shooting a smaller subject that would otherwise be a silhouette, you get some fill light that provides some details. This is a fairly rare & special situation, more common in the desert southwest.  When this late light bounces around, off of different cloud banks & off rock faces, maybe even water as well, you should thank the photography gods and shoot like a maniac!
This picture in Death Valley, California is directed at an angle to the setting sun.  It takes advantage of red-orange light reflected (and refracted) by the clouds back down on the salt flats.  The salt in turn reflects the light, but with a unique tinge created by interaction of the warm light with the salt crystals.

This picture in Death Valley, California is directed at an angle to the setting sun. It takes advantage of red-orange light reflected (and refracted) by the clouds back down on the salt flats. The salt in turn reflects the light, but with a unique tinge created by interaction of the warm light with the salt crystals.

Stay tuned next Friday for Part II of Reflections, where I’ll discuss ways you can use reflections to your advantage when you capture images.  If you are interested in any of these images, just click on them to go to the high-res. version.  Then once you have the full-size image you’re interested in, click “Purchase Options”.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Much-needed light is provided by the moon's reflection from clouds in this evening shot from Mt. Rainier National Park

Much-needed light is provided by the moon’s reflection from clouds in this evening shot from Mt. Rainier National Park

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18 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Reflections, Part I

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  1. You’ve given us very helpful tips and lesson. Thank you!

  2. Your posts are so helpful and inspiring. Thanks.

  3. Wow. Some of these photos are brilliant.

  4. You really are the master of reflections. I can’t believe you didn’t provide a map to your secret place:)

    • Thanks Lyle! Haha actually I’m not a naturally secretive person. But this certain place I want to keep in my back pocket. It’s like that cove way back when where the bass literally jumped out of the water into your hands, and we never saw anyone there. The three of us swore a blood oath to keep it secret.

  5. These photos are nothing short of incredible! Such inspiring imagery you capture.

  6. These are breathtaking scenic shots.

  7. Thanks for the education and your photos are beautiful and very helpful. If I wasn’t such a vagabond I would like to own a few.

  8. Wow! These are amazing! I am a big fan of water reflections so these photos got me all excited. Haha! That portrait of the young lady was very well captured too. I love how her eyes seem to see through you. Beautiful!

  9. Your photos are fantastic, but I love your description of how to use light. You are a great teacher and explain things so well. Thank you. Rosemarie

  10. STUNNING PHOTOS!

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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