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Tips for Water Reflection Photography: Fun with Puddles!

Water reflections are like mirrors into a magical world, but you don't always have to find a huge body of water in order to photograph them! In this article, we introduce some tips on photographing reflections in those water puddles you find in the streets after the rain. (Reported by studio9)

EOS 5D Mark II, f/4, 1/50 sec., ISO 6400


3 steps to reflection photography with water puddles

With the following 3 steps and more, you too can photograph reflections. These steps are not particularly hard, but there is a knack to mastering each one.

1. Find a puddle
2. Lower your eye level and look for reflections
3. Focus properly

Let's look at these step-by-step!


EOS 5D Mark II, f/5, 1/3200 sec., ISO 320


Step 1: Find a puddle that captures beautiful reflections

Large puddles, which are easier to photograph reflections in, last for just a few hours after the rain. It is harder to capture clear and beautiful reflections when it is still raining, because the raindrops form ripples in the water. That’s why you should try to take photos soon after the rain stops. A particularly good time to do so is after a heavy downpour. Open spaces and vacant lots are good places for finding puddles. Without any large obstacles around, you will be able to see a wide variation of reflections in any direction.

EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8, 1/4000 sec., ISO 800


Step 2: Lower your eye level and look for reflections

Everyone knows that puddles form when it rains, but few will notice how different the streets can look when reflected in a water puddle. That is because it is rather hard to spot such reflections from the high eye level of an adult. To have a glimpse of this magical world, you first need to lower your eye level.

This is in accordance with the Law of Reflection, as illustrated below. Notice how only the sky is visible in the reflection when viewed from the eye level of an adult (B).

(1) Nothing but sky is reflected
(2) A large part of the building is captured
(3) Puddle


At the eye level of the average adult, nothing but sky is visible in the reflection of a puddle at your feet. Hence, if you want to capture the building, a good idea is to position your camera much lower (A).

There may also be times when it is important to get close to the ground to take your shots. For example, in the photo below, the camera was virtually in contact with the ground! This was to capture the lower part of the building.

Read this to learn about the difference between “position/level” and “camera angle”.


EOS 5D Mark II, f/4, 1/400 sec., ISO 1000


EOS 5D Mark II, f/4, 1/30 sec., ISO 1600


Step 3: Focus on the actual subject if you can't establish focus on its reflection

Once you’ve found a puddle that can capture beautiful reflections, all you need to do is focus your camera as normal. However, if the puddle is shallow or if its surface is not still, your camera may end up focusing on the ground instead. Manually adjusting the focus is one way to fix it, but may be hard for beginners. At such times, think back to the Law of Reflection. As you can see from the drawing below, the subject and its reflection in the puddle are both roughly the same distance from the camera.

(1) Distance to actual building
(2) Distance to the building’s reflection
(3) When seen from perspective A, the building’s reflection appears to be deep inside the water.

Therefore, when you are unable to focus on a puddle reflection, try focusing on the actual subject, and then pointing your camera back toward the puddle with the focus locked (half-pressed). Because the distance from the camera to the actual subject is about the same as that to the apparent subject in the reflection, the puddle reflection should most likely be in focus. And just like that, you’ll be able to focus on a world that you may not have been able to see until now. Those of you who find it difficult to perform manual focusing should give this a try!


Tip 1: The ground is dark, so use negative compensation

The surface of the ground, whether it be asphalt, brick, or gravel, is generally a dark colour. When you take a shot as you would normally, the camera determines that the scene is dark, so it may capture images that are brighter than how the scene actually appears. To make your images appear as you see them, decrease the exposure compensation by around EV-1.

EOS 5D Mark II, f/4, 1/500 sec., ISO 400


Tip 2: I recommend using maximum aperture

You may also want to try using your maximum aperture (lowest f-number) to take photos with a large bokeh effect. This is not limited to DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Some compact cameras, especially the higher-end ones, can also produce lovely background bokeh! The camera will be in focus for the subject in the reflection, yet it will capture a magical looking reflection with the ground blurred out. This effect is clearly demonstrated in the example below.

EOS 5D Mark II, f/4, 1/400 sec., ISO 500
I focused on the reflection (a cherry tree overhead) in a drinking fountain. The surrounding area is blurred out, leaving the reflection in focus on the surface of the water.


EOS 5D Mark II, f/4, 1/500 sec., ISO 500
When I took a normal shot of the water and its surroundings (the drinking fountain), the distance to the apparent subject was different, so the camera did not focus on the reflection.


Tip 3: Avoid photographing in crowded places

Do be careful when photographing reflections close to the ground in a crowded area, especially when there are women wearing skirts nearby - you don't want your intentions to be misunderstood for something much less innocent! In the first place, it is inadvisable to shoot in a location where you may be blocking the way of passers-by. In the first place, it is inadvisable to shoot in a location where you may be blocking the way of passers-by.

Photographing reflections in water puddles is a great way to have fun after the rain. It can be a hassle to go out while it is raining, but once the rain stops, you can go about on your quest to find the doorway to a magical world in photos!


For water puddle reflection photographs with a different style, check out this article:
Create a Cool, Serene World with Water Reflections and White Balance


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