This is the second of two parts on that particular part of the light we encounter as photographers: reflection. Reflected light can really enhance your images, but it is also a potential distraction. There are several ways to control and use reflected light to your advantage during the capture phase. There are additional things you can do during post-processing, but this post will focus on the capture phase.
By the way, I’ve been not posting this week because I’ve been offline, enjoying Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks. Stay tuned for posts on these destinations. Meanwhile here’s a teaser:
Note that the images you see on my blog are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission. If you do have interest in any of them, just click to go to the main gallery part of my website. Once you have the large, high-res version of the image you like before you, just click “Purchase Options”. Thanks for your interest, and please contact me if you have any questions.
USING REFLECTIONS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
- First the bad news: Reflections can be distracting, unattractive, and rob your scene of color. The reason why I often use a circular polarizer on a drizzly cloudy day in the Oregon forest (all 8 months of it!) is that the leaves and needles, the rocks, even the soil, all of it is covered with a thin sheen of water.
- What to do: If you want to bring out the verdant green of those leaves, the subtle hues of that rock standing in the stream, you need to at least partly block that reflection. That is what a polarizer does for you. It will also block the reflection from the top of the stream or lake, allowing you to see (if it’s shallow enough) the color of the rocks, gravel or logs beneath. Be careful though. Don’t always rotate the polarizer until the maximum reflected light is blocked. You might want some of that reflection in your image if it’s attractive. Essentially, if a reflection is not adding color or depth to your image, it is usually taking away in some way.
- A little more bad news: Reflections, especially strong ones, can fool your light meter. The light meter in your camera does not like extremes of light or dark. So it can mess up and underexpose your picture. This is especially true if you place the center of your frame right on the brightest reflection in your composition. If you use Live View, the little white square (it’s white on Canon cameras at least) that floats around inside your frame will read mostly that part of the scene and adjust exposure accordingly.
- What to do: Be careful where you place that white square when using Live View. If you use Live View to frame and focus your shot, you can turn it off right before tripping the shutter. That way you can use your camera’s (normally excellent) evaluative or matrix metering. Basically, you want to meter off of not the absolute brightest thing in your frame but a peg or two down.
When I say “meter off of” I mean being in manual mode and pointing the center of your frame at what you wish to meter, setting aperture & shutter speed, then re-framing to get the image you want. Or you could, if you prefer to be in another mode (say aperture priority), simply point the center of the frame at what you’re metering and press the exposure lock button. Then while keeping it pressed, re-frame and take the picture. Whatever you do, it is safest to review your picture on the LCD (including the histogram) right after capture, so you can re-shoot then and there if necessary.
- Yay, the good news! Reflections can really add to any image. The better your sky looks, the more opportunity you’ll have to make y our foreground look better by using reflections. Let’s take an example. You are shooting a mountain lake with a beautiful sky where the sun has just set behind the hills. The light from the sky bounces off the water and gives that part of your photo a lot of interest with the shadows of colorful cloud and azure sky being accentuated in the water. Instead of getting too excited about that and framing your picture with only water down to the bottom, find an interesting part of the near shore (mud ripples, round rocks, etc.) to include. If you position yourself right (often you’ll need to get pretty low), the light reflecting off the water can help to light up that extra foreground. It might just provide rim light around the edges of the rocks. All this adds depth and texture to your image.
- More good news: Reflections give you so many more options. They are really a good friend if you’re into abstracts. The way sunlit water behaves in streams or in the wind provides fascinating compositions. In cities you can much more easily shoot into the sun when there are abundant reflective surfaces. You can put away the flash when you’re photographing someone under a tree or the eave of a building if there is an adjacent marble patio or walk. You can play around with mirror effects, using store or car windows to put figures & faces in very compelling spots within your compositions.
Reflections are all around you. They make up, after all, approximately one half of the natural light you use as a photographer. Use them to your advantage, be aware of their ability to intrude on your images, and above all, have fun with them.