Part of the joy of photography comes from having a means to express ourselves creatively. Simple point-and-shoot photos are great for sharing on social media or through texts with friends and family, but with a little bit of effort and a toolbox of creative techniques, we can easily level up our imagery as well as the satisfaction we get from taking pictures. Building on compositional staples like the rule of thirds, symmetry, leading lines, negative space, and others, we can apply creative techniques to add visual interest to our photos. Whether you shoot landscape imagery, engagement & wedding portraits, or any other genre, one technique you should absolutely include in your virtual toolbox to boost your creativity involves photographing water reflections.

Water reflection photography uses water to mirror part of the frame and create an artistic, abstract photo. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated, and you can use this technique for a number of purposes, from concealing distracting elements in a scene to adding balance and symmetry to an image, or even revealing elements you wouldn’t otherwise see (such as overhead lights, treetops, etc.) without shooting on a wide angle lens.

After you master this technique, you’ll discover the results far outweigh the effort. Let’s get started.

[Related Reading: Polar Pro Filters Summit Landscape Kit – An Innovative New Filter System]

Tip #1: Shoot in Manual Mode

In Auto Mode, cameras typically underexpose the reflected (or mirror image) area, as it usually registers as one of the darker areas in the frame. Instead, set your camera to Manual Mode and base your exposure on the darker areas within the reflection.

The exception here would be capturing water reflection photography with your smartphone camera. With a smartphone, you can usually select the reflected area and get a decent exposure.

Tip #2: Slow Your Shutter Speed for Artistic Effect

Use a slow shutter speed (also known as shutter drag) to capture a smooth reflection, especially in choppy (ripply) water. Keep in mind, however, that the slower your shutter speed, the less sharp your reflection will be, unless of course the water is perfectly still. To compensate, you can stop down your aperture, which we’ll cover in the next tip.

If you decide to significantly slow your shutter speed, you’ll want to use a tripod to minimize camera shake.

Tip #3: Use Fast Shutter and/or Narrow Aperture for Sharper Reflections

A fast shutter speed and narrow aperture (f/8-f/22) will give you the best chance of capturing a sharp water reflection photograph. These settings are ideal if your goal includes capturing as much detail as possible in the reflection. It also helps to shoot in calm conditions for the water.

Tip #4: Focus on the Water

Since we’re using the reflection to draw focus to our subject, we need to ensure our subject is in focus. By extension, this means we need to focus on the water reflection and not other areas in the frame in order to capture tack sharp images.

Tip #5: Avoid Midday Sun Reflections

Ideally, you should aim for a sunrise session for calmer waters and favorable lighting, or else try to capture your images an hour or two before sunset. While it IS possible to take amazing photos under the midday sun (despite the popular notion to avoid shooting at noon because of harsh shadows and so on), having the sun directly overhead increases your chances of getting too much sun glare in the shot. This brings us to our next two tips.

[Related Reading: 20 Milky Way Pictures to Inspire Your Photography in 2020]

Tip #6: Use a Polarizing Filter (or ND Filter) to Reduce Glare

Polarizing filters (or ND filters) will allow you to slow your shutter speed under brighter lighting conditions; this can prove especially helpful if the water you’re using for reflection is choppy (as we discussed earlier). These filters also help reduce the amount of glare in the reflection, which typically translates to a sharper image.

Tip #7: Find the “Right” Angle

With water reflection photography, finding and shooting from the right angle is key. When shooting a landscape image, for example, photographers generally try to create as much symmetry as possible and perfectly mirror the top and bottom portions of the frame. On the other hand, you may be using the reflection to highlight a couple standing off in the distance, which would require you to get lower and closer to the water source in order to find the couple in the reflection.

Tip #8: Flip (and Crop) the Images to Create Abstract Art

Framing your subject in a water reflection can make for interesting, abstract art, especially if you flip the image. Doing so completely changes the viewer’s perspective and understanding of what they’re seeing. The area around the reflection typically falls out of focus, and with the orientation of the image reversed, even recognizable objects can look unusual. It’s worth noting that ripply water works well for distorting the subject and maximizing the abstract effect, especially if you crop the frame and minimize the context clues that viewers might get from other areas of the image.

Tip #9: Shoot Wide and Tight for Unique Results

The focal length you use can have a great impact on the final image. Experiment with different focal lengths to see how they affect your photo and the subjects in it. As we mentioned in the previous tip, zooming in or cropping the image can add an abstract quality, while a wide angle of view reveals more of the environment and elicits a different reaction to the scene.

Tip #10: No Water? No Problem!

You don’t need large bodies of water to create amazing water reflection photographs. Puddles are sufficient and more calm than large bodies of water, and you can even find puddles at the beach. Moreover, you really don’t need water to capture a worthwhile selection photo. Water is only one of many reflective surfaces. You can also use your smartphone, mirrors, table tops, shiny floors, windows, and more to achieve a similar effect.

[Related Reading: 5 Tips for Better Landscape Photos]

Inspirational Water Reflection Photography

We’ve put together a collection of water reflection photographs to further inspire your creative journey in photography. Enjoy!

Lin & Jirsa Photography: Website | Instagram

View this post on Instagram

The light of my life ? #yallreddyforthis Venue: @grandhyattplaya Planner: @eventsbynisar @xanathbanuelos Makeup/Hair: @stylingtrio Mehndi: @carobellavista Florist/Rentals: @alquimiaevents DJ: @desijunctiondjs Dhol: @drumsinparadise Catering: @patravalicancun Cake: @la_migaja_mexican_bakery . . . . . . #truelove #destinationweddings #destinationweddingphotographer #destinationweddingphotography #cancun #weddinginspo #weddingday #shesaidyes #ido #weddingphotography #weddingphotographer #luxuryweddings #weddinggoals #buzzfeedweddings #visitcancun #relationshipgoals #weddingday #shesaidyes #weddingphotography #weddingphotographer #weddinginspo #theknot #smpweddings #buzzfeedweddings #cancunwedding #mexicoweddings #indianweddings #southasianweding

A post shared by Lin & Jirsa Photography (@linandjirsa) on

Line & Roots: Website | Instagram

Pye Jirsa: Instagram

Michael Kinney: Website | Instagram

View this post on Instagram

Your love is but a reflection of my dreams. ?❤?

A post shared by Michael Kinney (@kinney_photographer) on

Minaret Photo: WebsiteInstagram

Matthew Saville: Instagram

View this post on Instagram

This is a single 30-minute long exposure of #Maroon bells in #Colorado. This location is so popular, even in the dead of night there are hikers with headlamps making their way into the backcountry. But, that's what we should expect when such a beautiful location is just a short walk from a parking lot. This is the new norm for landscape and nightscape photography. … Honestly, though? I'm OK with that. Let the masses have their roadside attractions like #TunnelView in #Yosemite, or #MesaArch or #DelicateArch or #HorseshoeBend in #Arizona and #Utah. Maybe the masses visiting these locations is what human society needs to finally place greater value on preserving the outdoors and maybe even "saving the planet", whatever that means…

A post shared by Matthew Saville (@astrolandscapes) on

Journe Germain: Instagram

View this post on Instagram

Goodnight Friday … #sunset #reflection

A post shared by ?ourné ?ermain (@journeg) on

Joe Harris: Instagram

Cliff’s Wild Images: Instagram


We hope you enjoyed this article with 10 water reflection photography tips. Hopefully, the next time you head out with your camera (or even your smartphone), you can incorporate some theses techniques into your shoot and walk away with photos you can be proud of.