How to Photograph Amazing Water Reflections

Reflection photography is often described as abstract art—one that’s easily appreciated by many but particularly difficult to achieve. This is because photographing reflections, especially on water, requires the use of manual camera settings. At the same time, there are a couple of things that you need to consider in order to capture the stunning mirror image on water just as you see it in real life.

By the end of this article, you should be able to take better reflective images that may even be worth a couple of awards and prizes. Read on below to find out how!

Tips for Photographing Water Reflections

Consider Your Subjects

Just as it is when you photograph any type of subject, you must consider your image composition. Simply put, always mind what is being reflected in the water.

Usual subjects that look great in water reflections are forest landscapes, lights of the city skyline at night, mountains, birds, and waterfalls. You’ll have much more creative freedom when working closer to the water and with implanted objects, like beach items placed on shallow waters by the shore.

Change Your Point of View

You’ll need to learn how to angle your camera in order to properly frame both the land and water. Landscapes are usually taken with the water reflecting an exact mirror image of the land elements above, so level and elevate your camera until you get equal amounts of the land on both surfaces. Sometimes, you’ll also want to move to the left or right and change your point of view, especially when the lighting presents interesting shadows and highlights.

Shoot During Calm Weather

For the best looking water reflections, you’ll want the water to be perfectly still. You can use fast shutter speeds, but it’s still more advisable to shoot when there’s absolutely no wind at all, as it will cause ripples and blur the water surface (thereby ruining the perfect mirror image you were hoping to achieve).

Shoot When The Sun is Low

Avoid shooting water reflections—or anything, as a general photography rule—during midday under bright sunlight, as this will give you unattractive glares from the sun and harsh shadows. You’re more likely to capture better water reflections early in the morning or late in the day.

Use a Tripod

A reliable tripod is an absolute must-have when shooting landscapes, which you’re likely to do when shooting water reflections. It should help you frame your shot steadily, position and angle your camera any way you want, and make it much easier for you to take test shots of the exact same scene until you get the best shot.

Set the Right Camera Settings

First off, use a smaller aperture (around f/11 for landscapes or f/5.6 for smaller objects and area size) to bring out details and stronger reflections. You’ll also want to use a fast shutter speed to avoid capturing ripples in the water and any other movement in the surrounding environment. Finally, you may want to set your ISO a bit higher just to compensate for the lowered exposure due to the use of a smaller aperture and fast shutter, but try not to go above ISO 400 or 800 to avoid adding too much grain or noise to your image.

Manually Set the Exposure Point

Automatic exposure settings may give you reflections that look darker than in real life. To avoid getting inaccurate readings, set your exposure point manually and base it on an area inside the “mirror” image that’s the same level of exposure as the area of water where there’s no reflection.

Focus on the Water

With a smaller aperture, your entire image—including the land and the water reflection that’s a lot closer to your camera—will likely look sharp and detailed. But if you want your focus on point, which should be the case if you’re planning to print large copies of your photos, make sure you do a half-press and focus on your focal point (such as trees or mountains) in the water. This ensures that the reflection is as sharp as possible in your photos.