Creek descending through a granite basin. The sun was hitting the rocks just beyond the top of the frame, reflecting the gold color into the water, and even onto some of the polished rocks on the right.
When people think of photographing a reflection, they usually think of a mirror reflection, like a mountain reflected in a tranquil lake. I’ve done my share of those, but I think it’s often more interesting to just look at the colors, textures, and patterns on the water’s surface.
During my just-completed Hidden Yosemite workshop we had many opportunities to photograph reflections of all kinds. The accompanying photographs represent a mini-gallery of reflection photographs that I made during and just prior to the workshop, with extended captions to explain the thought process behind each image. Most of these are not mirror reflections; instead, they’re focused on the water’s colors and textures.
I think this is a pretty diverse collection, but there’s one thing all of these images have in common: in every case, the water was in the shade, but reflecting something in the sun. Sunlight on the water creates a glare that kills reflections. The magic happens when the water is in the shade, but reflecting the glow from sunlit mountains, rocks, trees, or clouds.
— Michael Frye
Pools in glacially polished granite, Yosemite NP. Late-day sunlight hitting the ridge above reflected gold colors into these pools of water. When adjusting the white balance, I left a hint of blue in the rocks to create a warm-cool color contrast.
That gold color again, reflected into the Tuolumne River from sunlit rocks above. I used a relatively fast shutter speed – 1/60th sec. – to freeze the water’s motion and preserve the texture. I also needed a small aperture (f/22) to keep everything in focus. Getting both a fast shutter speed and small aperture required pushing the ISO up to 1600.
Reflections at the base of a small waterfall along the Tuolumne River. This shutter speed was a compromise: I wanted to freeze the ripples in the foreground, but blur the waterfall behind, so I settled on ⅛ of a second to get some blur while still preserving most of the texture in the ripples.
I loved the abstract patterns created by clouds reflected in the rippled surface of this alpine lake. Again I used a fast shutter speed (1/125 sec.) and small aperture (f/22) to freeze the motion and get sufficient depth of field, which required pushing the ISO to 400. The ripples were moving quickly, so I made a series of exposures with the same settings to try and capture the most interesting design.
Sunset reflections in an alpine lake. The lake wasn’t perfectly still, but close enough to create a classic mirror reflection. In these situations shutter speed doesn’t matter much; here it was 1.5 seconds.
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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBooks Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, and Exposure for Outdoor Photography. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.