Photo Challenge Assignment #1: Reflections


Reflections capture our imagination because they create an alternate vision of our world. If the reflection is perfect, then that vision is a literal representation of what we experience. If the reflection is imperfect, that vision becomes abstract. Either way, incorporating reflections into your photos will challenge the viewer’s visual perceptions.

In this assignment, you’re going to explore the artistic use of reflections. But we encourage you to go way beyond just mirrors and water!

Make sure to share your shot for this assignment in the Photo Challenge Facebook group!


Sarah Marino is a professional nature photographer based in the Rocky Mountain West and guest expert for Outdoor Photography Guide. You can view more of Sarah’s work and read her travel stories at


Technically, a reflection is simply the throwing back by a surface of light without absorbing it. Almost everything reflects light, but what we’re concerned about here are things that reflect a lot of light. Mirrors are obviously at the top of the list, but water is extremely reflective as well (with still water appearing almost mirror-like under the right conditions). Of course, other surfaces reflect well too, although not necessarily with the same intensity and perfection as a mirror or still water. Moving water, wet surfaces, ice, polished metal, glass, and coated plastic can all be used effectively to create reflections.

Photo by Ian Plant. Grand Teton National Park, USA. Canon 5DII, 24mm, ISO 50, f/11, 2 seconds.


Perfect reflections (or near-perfect, at least) are great for creating images that use symmetry. The juxtaposition of a subject and its mirror image can create interesting shapes. For this image, the clouds in the sky alone wouldn’t be all that interesting, but when combined with their reflection, an eye-catching radiating pattern emerges. The pebbles in the foreground help break up the symmetry, adding further visual interest.

Photo by Ian Plant. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Canon 5DIII, 16mm, ISO 50, f/11, 1/10 second.


Imperfect reflections can add an element of abstraction to your photos. Here, I chose a symmetrical composition of the bridge and city skyline, and the reflections in the moving water below. The reflection is rendered as an abstract blur, which adds visual interest to composition.

Photo by Ian Plant. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador. Canon 5DIII, 165mm, ISO 100, f/4, 1/200 second.


A polarizer filter is your “secret weapon” when photographing reflections. Although a polarizer filter turned to full polarization is designed to remove reflections, some scenes with colorful reflections benefit from creative polarization. For this photo of fall color reflected in a stream, I avoided full polarization, instead spinning the filter until I found a setting which brought out the best colors in this image. This technique won’t work well with all reflection images, but scenes with a lot of water and exposed wet surfaces seem to benefit most.

Photo by Ian Plant. Minneapolis, USA. Canon 5DIII, 155mm, ISO 50, f/11, 3.2 seconds.


Reflections don’t always have to be a prominent element of your photos. Here, reflections in fresh rainwater on the city streets help bring color and luminosity to the dark flagstones. Instead of being a significant element of the photo, the reflections instead merely accent the composition.

Photo by Ian Plant. Adirondack State Park, USA. Canon 1DsII, 116mm, polarizer filter, ISO 50, f/16, 1.6 seconds.


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Inspiration Gallery by Sarah Marino

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