Street Photography Reflections
Do you want to get creative with your street photography? Do you want to shoot street photography with little risk of confrontation? Do you want to take a a subtle selfie? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, I invite you to start looking for opportunities to use reflections in your compositions or use reflections as a composition tool.
Reflective surfaces abound. Think:
Windows of stores
Windows of cars, trucks and trains
Airports, which may be the opportunity of all opportunities
Bodies of water
If you are a landscape photographer, reflections, particularly in bodies of water, are probably already in your repertoire. Add a person and poof you have dipped a toe into street photography.
The picture below is a perfect example. It was taken by Monica Posnett. I do not think of Monica as a landscape photographer. I had to invent the term “design photography” to describe her incredibly creative and inspiring photography. You can see her work in her Instagram gallery at @posmonx.
If you are a street photographer, you may not have refined the technique of taking pictures of reflections in a body of water. If that is the case, I recommend the short article, “How to Capture Wonderful Reflections in Photography,” written by Alessandro Torri for Expert Photography. One of the more interesting points for me was his suggestion to throw out the traditional rules of composition. Finally, having the horizon in the center of the picture makes sense because the composition looks better when it is balanced.
Ron Phillips is a street photographer who has clearly mastered the art of classic reflection. The picture below was taken with a Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless camera. Ron took this picture from the ground level. He utilizes an L Bracket on his camera to help keep the lens above the surface of the puddle. The bracket also keeps the camera body flat against the ground and helps stabilize the shot as well. You can see Ron’s gallery on Instagram at @ronphillipsphotography. He is an instructor at Hunts Photo and Video in Melrose, Massachusetts.
Reflections That Are Complicated
These are the reflections that I really like to take and I really like to look at. They essentially have the double negative effect of two pictures combined into one. One of the pictures is a standard picture of someone or something that you are looking at through glass. The second picture is the reflection on the glass.
The picture below by my Instagram friend, Patrick Kalberg-Khan, whose gallery you can see at @waitingforthecat, is poignantly captioned, “Stars and Stripes with a risk of slipping.” Patrick used the background of the Hamburger Dom plus a street sign for the reflection. The look on the face of the woman inside the window seems to be angst. It is a striking pictorial analogy of how a large number of people who live outside of the U.S. plus many of those who live inside of the U.S. feel about the current direction of the United States.
Here are some things that I know about taking these kinds of pictures. First and foremost, the degree of reflection on the glass is not the same throughout the picture. By that I mean, if there is dark space in the background through the glass, you are going to get a very distinct reflection, almost to the extent that it looks real and not reflected. If the background is light, you will get less reflection to no reflection at all.
I think that is what makes this kind of picture complicated. It can be hard to tell what is real and what is reflected. In addition, the change in the amount of reflection can seem rather inexplicable.
It is also true that the reflection will often include you. If you do not want to be in the picture, you have shoot at an angle or stand right in front of a very light part of the background.
Eric Pouchin took this “selfie” using his iPhone. His face is reflected in a window looking out at a building and shrubbery. Eric is an incredibly creative street photographer and absolutely one of my favorites to follow. You can see his gallery on Instagram at @pouchinov.
You have plenty of time to compose this kind of picture, even if you are really there trying to catch people in the reflection. Try out different angles. Get it clear in your mind what your compositional goals are. People will not think much about you hanging around a window. Even if they do, when you tell them you are trying to take a picture of the reflection, they will most often accept that explanation. Of course, if there is a real person in the background, you have to take your picture and go. To take multiple pictures of someone through glass is akin to stalking behavior.
Using Reflections as a Compositional Tool
Reflections can add lines and frames that add to the composition of your picture.
This reflection by Susan Schiffer adds an incredible sense of three dimensions. Susan has a delightful gallery of street portraits that you can see on Instagram at @susan.schiffer.
Start looking for reflections and reflective surfaces. They are everywhere, including in your home. Take a reflection selfie. Then try to get the reflection without the selfie. During the practice time, it is not so important what picture you are taking as much as your attention to composition and effect.