How To Use Reflections To Enhance Your Water Photos

When a photographer comes to understand the importance of reflections in water photos, they are able to take some outstanding shots of striking depth and composition of the water and their subject by utilizing this natural mirror in the same photo.

How To Use Reflections To Enhance Your Water Photos

With that being said, while anyone can take a picture of a reflection in a lake or a pool and come out with a nice looking photo, if you really want to get the most out of a reflection to enhance your water photos so that they can look as striking and unique as possible, there are a few extra tips you should know about, and that’s exactly what we’re going to take a closer look at today.

Keep reading to learn about some of the most effective ways you can use reflections to enhance your water photos so that they can come out as visually appealing as possible.

Include Reflections Of People

Because reflections act as natural mirrors that can appear in many different shapes and shades of color, it increases the creative possibilities of your photos exponentially, especially when you include reflections of actual people.

Think about it this way, while you could easily take a nice far-reaching landscape photo of a lake to highlight its glistening appearance and smooth and tranquil nature, if you also included a reflection of people looking out into the lake at the bottom of the photo, you immediately attach more uniqueness and meaning to the photo.

Therefore, while the reflection of a person or multiple people can sometimes seem like an obstruction, it can just as easily be used as a creative feature in a photo too.

Capture The Sea During The Sunset

Reflections are incredibly useful for providing a unique color palette that you will struggle to get when taking pictures of still environments, and no color provides a sense of comfort and warmth more than the golden rays that shimmer across the sea when the sun is rising or setting.

Not only can the reflection of the sun enhance a photo of the sea tremendously in regards to the color, but it is also an easy way to make a photo unique when it otherwise might look a little bland or plain.

For example, if you have spotted an astonishing view of the sea that stretches out as far as the eye can see, but you want to add just a little more vibrancy to the shot, simply wait until the sun is either rising or setting, and your picture will instantly look much better.

Think About Your Subject

Before you set out to capture some dazzling reflective photos in the water (see also “How To Capture The Beauty Of Water Scenes“), it’s worth asking yourself beforehand what kinds of subjects you want to capture, and more specifically, what kind of feeling or emotion you want to invoke from the shot .

For example, a reflection of a bright and glamorous city can create an incredible composition that shows a contrast between the well-established and architecturally impressive city itself, and the muted colors that sprout from underneath.

On the other hand, if you want something that’s a little more intimate and focused, you can even just hone in on the reflection of an animal roaming across a bank, or a couple rowing in a small boat across a lake.

As long as you are aware of the type of photo you want to add to your collection, you can then start thinking about what the most optimal subject will be.

Use The Correct Lens

While there’s no specific type of lens that stands above the rest when it comes to capturing water reflections, it is still important to be aware of what options will work best depending on the types of pictures you’re hoping to capture, and the subjects you intend to focus on.

For example, a telephoto lens will work best when capturing reflections of wildlife and people, however, if you want to focus on the reflection of a landscape, then a wide lens such as a 24mm prime or 14mm will be much more effective at displaying the entire image and ensuring that every inch is fully detailed.

Additionally, while it’s not exactly essential, a tripod will help tremendously in composing images and will also allow you to shoot long exposures, which is always great for adding some visual flare and intrigue to a photo.

Choose Between Smooth And Rippled Water

A big mistake a lot of beginners make when trying to capture reflections in their water photos (see also “Water Photography Techniques For Beginners“) is paying too much attention to the subject, despite the fact that the water is just as important when it comes to making a shot as appealing and captivating as possible.

Rippled and calm water both give off a very different atmosphere and aesthetic, especially when combined with the subject that is being reflected.

Calm waters tend to work best for lending an image composition balance and depth, while ripples are better for taking a more abstract and creative approach where the reflection can look distorted and more unique.

When you’re planning to capture some reflections, try to pay attention to the water and what effect it will have on the final image.

On top of this, don’t be afraid to get creative, try visiting some waterfalls for example and experiment with how the images reflect in the water as it crashes down before smoothing out again.

Adjust Your Shutter Speed

To keep the image of your subject sharp and precise in the water, you’re going to want to adjust your shutter speed so that it is fast enough to avoid capturing the movement of the water which can cause the reflection to look blurry.

1/80 of a second is seen as a good starting point in terms of shutting speeds. This will guarantee that the reflection comes out with barely any distortion, even if the wind is particularly heavy on the day.

Of course, you don’t need to have this setting on all the time, and for calmer waters, you will definitely still be able to capture some amazing shots with slower shutter speeds, but 1/80 tends to be a good place to start, and a safe choice to go for if you’re a little unsure on what the waters are going to be like.

Don’t Forget About Smaller Pools Of Water

While your first instinct may be to head to a large lake or a beach to capture some reflections, you don’t always need to go this big.

In fact, sometimes taking pictures on a scale as large as this can become a detriment to your photo, especially if the weather isn’t agreeing with you on the day and your subject keeps coming out blurry or distorted.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to focus on smaller pools of water, such as puddles for example.

Puddles are commonly used in photography to give the subject in the reflection a sense of scale and height, whether it’s a skyscraper or just a streetlight, providing an intriguing contrast to the urban surroundings.

Additionally, because there’s far less water for the wind to move around, it’s also much easier to capture a sharp and precise image when focusing on a smaller pool of water, so it can be well worth trying to capture a few snaps in the street after a period of heavy rainfall.

Make The Reflection Your Focal Point

This technique only really applies to calm waters, but despite this, it is a great tip if you want the reflection to come out as clear and sharp as possible, and can be done easily by simply centering the focal point of the camera directly on the reflection.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean the reflection will look as real as the actual subject, since you will still be capturing water so this is virtually impossible, but it will help tremendously in making the reflection pop out a lot more and become a much larger aspect of the photo overall.

Using the focal point in this way also encourages the depth of field to become a lot more shallow, blurring the background slightly and directing a person’s attention to the reflection itself.

Therefore, if you are intending to capture a few reflections in a peaceful lake or while the sea is at its calmest, try this neat little trick to help make the reflection stand out as much as possible.


Capturing reflections in the water is a fantastic way to get creative with your shots and to add an element of creativity and visual flare to a photo, but if you want to produce the best photographs possible, there are a lot of things to consider first.

You need to have an idea beforehand of what your subject is going to be, what conditions you would like to be taking your photographs in, and most importantly, what sort of photo you actually want to take in regard to style and aesthetic.

Once you have these things in mind, and you know the best way to use your camera when it’s time to start taking the pictures, you’ll be all set to capture some outstanding reflective water photos.

Laura McNeill
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