Want to learn how to capture the interplay of light and water in your photos? These six photographers share their favorite tricks for shooting reflections in stunning landscapes.

Landscape photographers have long shared a love affair with natural reflections. Think of Ansel Adams and his fascination with Yosemite’s looming Half Dome, often seen reflected in the still waters of the Merced River. Carlton Watkins photographed that same recognizable scene as well, though he did so in a different light. And like Adams before him, Brett Weston carried the torch by photographing the puffy white clouds that form over the smooth black surface of Mono Lake.

Today, reflections are as popular as ever. This year, we highlighted landscape reflections as one of the top trends on Shutterstock’s Instagram feed. There are currently almost 20 million images tagged #reflection on Instagram; similar hashtags include #reflectiongram, #reflection_shotz, #splendid_reflections, #reflection_perfection, and even #puddlegram. We asked six outstanding landscape photographers to tell us about incorporating reflections into their pictures. Below, they take us on a journey to some of the most stunning places on the planet, and they also share their best tips for using this particular trend to your advantage.

1. “The key to great reflection shots is the weather, mainly the wind!”

Daniel Kay

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Weather is Key

Image by Daniel Kay. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Nikkor AF-S DX 18-105mm. lens. Settings: Focal length 105mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This photograph is from Autumn 2016; I took it at the River Brathay in the Lake District National Park. I had a bit of a disappointing sunrise in a different location and decided to have a small walk in this area. On arrival, I was astonished by conditions I hadn’t really witnessed before: a stunning hoar frost, mist rising from the river, and lovely autumnal colors on a Great Oak tree.

Pro Tip

The key to great reflection shots is the weather, mainly the wind! Ideally, you want the wind/gusts to be as low as possible. Anything below 3 mph wind speed and 5 mph gust speed should give you those mirror-like conditions, but the lower the better. There are various forecasters that will give you an indication on the wind speed; the hard part is finding a source that is consistently reliable. My current favorite app is called Weather Pro by MeteoGroup. You do have to pay for their premium service, but it’s only a small charge. Also, when different sources all seem to agree on similar forecasts, there’s a stronger chance of that forecast actually happening.

Pictured: [1] Daniel Kay [2] Daniel Kay

The next step is knowing how to make the best of amazing weather conditions. In some places, the conditions for reflections can be rare, so you might not have the opportunity to get that perfect shot again for quite a while. You’ve probably heard the term “the rule of thirds” a lot when discussing composition, and in most cases, using the rule of thirds is the best way to achieve a compelling composition; however, when reflections occur, symmetry is the way forward! Instead of putting the horizon on the top or bottom third of the photo, go all out and put it right in the middle.

Sometimes when going on the chase for reflections, the slightest breeze can give you a dreaded ripple effect in the water. That can ruin the shot, so a great way around this is to use a neutral density filter to obtain a long exposure. This will only work if the ripples are minor, and unfortunately, it isn’t quite as nice as the glassy look, but every now and again, it can save the day.

My final tip is to have patience. I have often had to revisit a certain location many times before getting the shot I had in mind, but once you have it, you’ll forget about those dreaded fails.


2. “Try to shoot from a very low angle to capture more of the reflection.”

mpaniti (Paniti Marta)

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Shoot from Low Angles

Image by mpaniti (Paniti Marta). Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm; exposure 1/8 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

My friends and I visited Slovenia some years ago. It rained almost the entire week, but one morning, we decided to get up early and go for a hike on the mountain over Lake Bled. The whole lake was under dense fog, so we quickly ran down to capture the reflections and the sunrise. The view was so unreal, just like a dream.

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Expose to the Brightest Part of the Image

Image by mpaniti (Paniti Marta).

Pro Tip

Timing is an important factor when it comes to photographing reflections. The best conditions are in the morning, right before and after sunrise, and in the evening, right before or after sunset. During this time, the clouds will be colorfully reflected on the water’s surface.

Wide and ultra wide-angle lenses are always good choices for a strong result. Try to shoot from a very low angle to capture more of the reflection. It’s important to get the right exposure, so always expose for the brightest part of the image (this is usually the sky because the reflection is always a bit darker). Alternatively, if you have a tripod, you can do multiple exposures for an HDR image.

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3. “Arrive early so you have more time to scout the area.”


6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Arrive Early

Image by puttsk. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, EF 17-40 F/4 L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/8 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In 2012, I went to Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park in Canada for my first multi-day hike to Lake Magog. The hike is a strenuous 30-kilometer hike, and it took me two days to reach our destination. Our group stayed at a campground one kilometer away from the lake for two days. Every morning and evening, we hiked and spent our time near the lake, waiting for a chance to get a shot of the Mt. Assiniboine reflection.

Luckily, the perfect conditions came on the morning of our last day, when this picture was taken. The wind was calm, and there wasn’t a single cloud over the mountain. I still remember it to this day.

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Study the Location

Image by puttsk.

Pro Tip

You need to study the location beforehand. I do a lot of research before any trip. The easiest tool for this is Street View on Google Maps, which will give you a rough idea about the location. Arrive early so you have more time to scout the area. Typically, I try to find a large body of water, but sometimes, even a small pool works well.

Last but not least, it’s all about luck and patience. I tend to spend as much time as possible at any location; however, even that might not be enough. It’s hard to predict what nature will do. Sometimes, you get the reflection as planned, and sometimes, it doesn’t work out. For example, I got a good Mt. Fuji reflection photo on my first try, but I’ve never experienced a reflection on Maroon Lake in Colorado, even after visiting it a few times.

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4. “The best reflection photos are taken during golden hour or blue hour.”


6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Blue Hour and Golden Hour

Image by abriendomundo Gear: Canon EOS 600D APS-C camera, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 11mm; exposure 1/50 sec; f16; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

More than a year ago, I went to visit Uyuni, Bolivia, from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It is an amazing three-day four-wheel drive to Uyuni; we crossed the Andes Mountains and passed through incredible landscapes. Uyuni is maybe the greatest salt flat on Earth, and if you choose the correct time (between January and March), it is an incredible mirror.

We woke up early in order to see the sunrise in the middle of the salt flats. I positioned my tripod and placed the people in the photo. I then placed myself in between the other people and just enjoyed the happiness of seeing the sunrise in such an amazing place.

Pictured: [1] abriendomundo [2] abriendomundo

Pro Tip

For me, the most important aspect is the location. I’ve found that the best places for these kinds of photos are salt lakes, where you can shoot incredible reflections of the whole sky. Living in Chile gives me a lot of opportunities to shoot incredible natural reflections. My favorite sites are the salt flats in northern Chile in the Atacama Desert and the incredible Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. While these are my favorites, I also use other locations like small natural pools. These are useful for abstract photos in urban areas.

The next step is being at your chosen location at the correct time. The best reflection photos are taken during golden hour or blue hour. At sunset/dusk and sunrise/dawn, the skies are more colorful, and the light is much easier to manage later in post-processing. The most amazing landscape reflections are often the ones taken on days with overcast skies and clouds.

You don’t need amazing equipment to shoot amazing reflections; however, there are some techniques that are quite useful. Since I shoot in the great outdoors, I usually use an SLR camera, and I shoot in RAW format. I use fast wide-angle lenses with a minimum f-number of at least 2.8. A tripod is also important since you’ll usually need to use long exposures at dawn or dusk, and a remote shutter is quite helpful. An ND filter is also useful for shooting long exposures and minimizing the undesirable effects caused by wind. Another one of the key aspects for shooting reflections is using hyperfocal distance. You could also blend multiple photos for a sharp image, but I prefer the first technique since I find it purer.

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5. “Dawn and dusk are often ideal times to get a calm ambiance.”

Anupam Hatui

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Filter Uneven Reflections

Image by Anupam Hatui. Gear: Canon 1100D camera, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III lens. Settings: Focal length 32.0mm; exposure 1.6 sec; f14; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Lake Wanaka is one of the most popular photography and tourist hotspots due to its magical scenery. It’s a two-hour scenic drive from Queenstown across the Crown Range. I had heard so many stories about the Lake and the lonely willow tree that stands over it, so it was a dream come true to visit. I planned for a shoot at dawn, and I dropped by the location an hour before the sunrise. It was a magical moment as I witnessed the beauty of the cold, calm lake, the snow-clad peaks, and the stillness of the willow tree. When the sun rose, the scene lit up, and the view was unmatched. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment to witness such a view.

Pictured: [1] Anupam Hatui [2] Anupam Hatui

Pro Tip

Choosing the perfect time and location is essential. Dawn and dusk are often ideal times to get a calm ambiance. Also, I prefer to be facing opposite the sun to get a mirror effect. There are a few techniques for getting a smooth reflection shot. Try a partially long exposure shot of at least 5-10 seconds with f11-18 and ISO 100-200, and do not forget a sturdy tripod. At dawn and dusk, you might need a CPL filter to cut off any uneven reflection.


6. “Try to go to a location that is not commonly seen in photographs.”

Sierralara (Cliff LaPlant)

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Try Unique Locations

Image by Sierralara (Cliff LaPlant). Gear: Nikon D800 camera, 16-35mm wide angle zoom lens. Settings: Focal length 19mm; exposure .5 sec; f22; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I captured this photograph during a four-day backpacking trip to the base of Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. This particular photograph was taken at about 7:00 AM at the eastern shoreline of beautiful Lake Ediza in the Inyo National Forest section of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. It had been storming most of the night and early morning hours, and I was treated to this lovely cloud set in the morning. I utilized a circular polarizer to bring out the reflection from the water in the lake, almost eliminating the crystal clear bottom.

6 Secrets for Capturing Reflections in Your Landscape Photos — Be Open to Chance

Image by Sierralara (Cliff LaPlant).

Pro Tip

Try to go to a location that is not commonly seen in photographs. I would also recommend waking up early in the morning (well before sunrise) and choosing a location that is still in shadow. As the sun illuminates your subject—mountains, trees, etc— use a circular polarizer and a tripod to frame your shot. Sunrise is generally calmer than sunset. However, magic can happen at any time.

In most circumstances, I find that having some nice clouds in the shot can improve the overall image. For example, photos of the Half Dome in Yosemite with clear blue skies are everywhere; however, if you were to capture a unique formation of clouds over the same site during sunrise or sunset, you’d most assuredly have something special.

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Top Image by abriendomundo.