Time for some reflections
Here in London the rains have come and autumn has truly pushed summer away. It’s my son’s favourite time of year, increasingly cold and dark days, time to be cosy at home. I must say the cold and the rain are severely testing for me. And so I have to constantly remind myself of what can be found out there in the weather that I instinctively reject. I have to work harder finding the things are that inspiring when it’s grey. I don’t mind the cold; in fact if the light is good, a cold day can be magnificent (any day when the light is good is magnificent.)
BTW – the rains HAD come when I started writing this post which, as you can tell if you are in London, takes me a long time to get together. We are now in the middle of an Indian Summer it seems, but I was too excited about this post about reflections to shelve it, so let’s pretend it’s raining OK?
But what the rains bring to mind the most is…reflections. Where there is water there are reflections. Of course we have other types of reflections too. I will explore as many reflections as my photographs will show, and that is what I want to discuss today.
Because reflections are fun! To me they say – I am playing! And after my recent heavy posts of – get your butt of your couch and get photographing! – I thought it was time for some fun.
So here are some ideas on why I think reflections are so awesome – and some of the myriad of things reflections will do for your photos.
The next six photos are all of things are of things I saw when looking down. When walking around and taking photos, many people don’t look up but even fewer people look down. Basically – you need to look everywhere.
This photo sums up London for me – rain, dirty pavements, a wandering and slightly deformed pigeon – and the promise of mind-bending fun in the form of garish, crazy colours.
This pigeon and I had a lot of fun together:
Until it wandered off, and I was left with just the floor.
See how much fun you can have with a reflections! And we have barely started….
Playing with light
My favourite thing, light. So here is a simple light reflection (simple always the hardest, right?)
Look at how the water becomes just a texture. An undulating texture. By being narrow and cutting it out of the context of what it’s really made of. It’s like staring at your hand for ages and becoming totally tripped out on the texture of your skin, the bones beneath it, the blood… Focusing on the details do crazy things to your eyes, so photograph them!
Let us all remember that it doesn’t require big light, dramatic weather events, to play with reflections. Very subtle light, very small events can create interesting photos.
Another opportunity to drill that point in: the simple illumination of the human footprint by some (artificial) light.
I like that reflections can trick the eye and create really abstract images. Here I’ve just got a couple of elements – the shapes, the texture of the background with its holes and the look – of confusion? sadness? – on the man’s face.
So this is a different kind of abstraction in the sense that you can totally see what it is, but I’ve broken down the scene into elements, which move it into the world of the abstract.
One thing about taking things smaller is that I would say everyone can take a photo of a beautiful or interesting scene. Come across a sunset over a valley or a epic cloudy sky over a row of houses: we are good at that. But when I ask people to refine the scale of their beauty, find beauty or something really interesting in a smaller area, then people tend to struggle. It’s not going quite down to single element shots – like taking a photo of a funny looking dog or a nice looking flower. It is somewhere in between – so maybe a door frame, a wall and a human walking past. That sort of scale.
Remember to move and always be asking yourself what’s my angle here?
“Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah-ha’.” Ernst Haas
So let’s look at the photo below. I think most people would have done this photo more of a dead centre, straight reflection. I think playing with your angle can create some really fun results. I like that the reflection looks like it was ripped out of a magazine. Or maybe it’s a subterranean world??
Reflections on glass
I love a big shiny glass building! This is where you can really go to town with reflections. Especially when the sun is low in the sky and reflecting more directly, almost dancing, on the building (this is generally early mornings, evenings and most of winter if you’re somewhere like England)
I love playing with shapes, creating disorder where before there was order. Here we’ve got that great contrast of strong diagonal lines made weaker by the chaotic, persistent bursts of the lights. And in there somewhere is a lady. I am a bit freaked out by this photo, but it intrigues me all the same, so thought you’d like to see it.
You can use a subtle reflection to create the sensation of depth, the feeling of something going on below. Can you see how without it the photo below would be quite flat? There wouldn’t be enough contrasting elements within the photo to make it pop?
In the photo below – I think the subtle reflection is creating a depth to the photo which is what makes it work overall. But the reflection is also reinforcing the interestingness of the original elements. Look at those windows! Look at that odd looking door! And the brick coming through the plaster. And to top it off you have a great street name, worn like the rest of the scene. The cherry on top is the lady walking quickly – it adds a little modernity, a little energy which goes against the old, crumbling Venice architecture.
Great photos are often great because there are two or three good elements playing together. If I see one really interesting element (for me the windows and door would be enough to stop and look around), I’ll look around for something else. Maybe something that reinforces that element (the door, the windows and the sign, yes!) And then hope for something contrasting or different to add something else to the photo (above, of course, the movement AND the rainy reflection.)
That’s when you are taking your photos to another level, when you can start to bring together multiple elements to do something interesting together. Could you say it’s like adding a really amazing sauce to a really good steak (and maybe a really good glass of red wine too?) All really good elements on their own but together – but wow, together, they make your eye/palette jump for joy.
What do you think of the elements I’ve chosen in this photo?
What enhances or detracts? Is there a reason for all of the elements? I think having a look at photos that are good but not amazing is also a great training for the eye. I think this photo has some interesting qualities – but what could have been better? More interesting?
Easy way to create a new perspective
I thought this was a fun photo, and an interesting way to show how reflections can give you an opportunity to photograph something really iconic, but in a different way.
After all that abstraction and interestingness, I would also like to say I also love a good, straight reflection. I do. Very pleasing to the eye. When bodies of water are very still (usually in the night or early early in the morning), when there is no wind rippling the surface or humans interfering with it, you have a perfect surface for very symmetrical and striking reflections. I like that you are creating something strong and ordered in our otherwise chaotic world.
I like what reflections say about the subject. For example, in Paris one beautiful dawn morning I shot this by Canal St Martin.
Paris is a very ordered city I would say. It was rebuilt by Haussmann in the 1850’s. And although I initially felt it was too samey, when you embrace the order of the city it can create something really special.
The history of Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris is super fascinating (here is a 3 minute film explaining the renovation, and look here for a written history. And if you are into Paris the book Parisians is really good. It’s a fun collection of stories about odd things you never knew about the city, like the fact there are hundreds of tunnels and mines under the city that have created tons of sinkholes over the past few hundred years).
In contrast – Istanbul is not what you’d call an ordered city and so the reflection can be used to create order from that more wild side of humanity.
You see how soothing to the eye the reflection of symmetry is, especially when it’s of something super symmetrical?
I had to put this photo – above – in because my daughter said it was her favourite photo ever. I hope that really is ever, and not just of mine. How is this for a reflection, applying it to an insane degree?! (I like that the water is not quite clean, you’ll see at the bottom there is some kind of pink tissue. For those of you who would encourage me to Photoshop this out, I say no. I like to have a bit of human incongruity in my photos. I have a photo where a tiny slit of cloud looks like a bit of dirt, but I refuse to take it out. Imperfection is more compelling that total perfection. Says I. Perfection looks like a computer, not a human.)
OK – so wow, that was a lot on reflections, and I have barely scratched the surface of my reflection archives. I would LOVE to hear if you are a reflection lover – comment below.
And – I am really happy to have heard from some of you with your five best photos from this year. Please carry on sending them in (to email@example.com). I’ll be putting together a gallery of my favourite submissions at the end of November. So be brave, review your photos from this year with a hawk like gaze and send me your very best.
Anthony and Diana
All photos in this post are © Anthony Epes, 2015