Capture Coastal Reflections

By Caroline Schmidt. Posted

The ebb and flow of the tide is one of the most appealing aspects of the coast and, for photographers, it’s arguably the most compelling reason to visit. Throw the expected out of the window, and let’s discover a different way of shooting seascapes. We’re not talking about rewriting the rules here, but rather having a little fun with them.

Strong lead-in lines, incredible foreground interest and big skies are all part of the attraction for seascapes, not to forget the fun of shooting
at different shutter speeds for a variety of effects. But while these more obvious approaches regularly yield great results, it can be the more subtle and easily missed shots that are the key to producing unusual images of popular locations.

Reflections in lakes and reservoirs are more common than at the coast, but the problem remains that even the very slightest breeze can render a seemingly sheltered body of water looking like a jacuzzi turned up to the ‘max’.

At the coast, however, even in windy conditions, low-lying water and rock pools remain completely still and can create the perfect mirror image of their surroundings and the sky, so not only is it much easier to find great reflection images, they’re incredibly easy to shoot.

For the most impressive results, it’s always best to shoot around sunrise and sunset because this is when you’ll experience softer, warmer light that keeps glare to a minimum. And, in terms of kit, you really don’t need anything special to achieve great results – little more than a camera and kit lens is ideal. If you want to have the ultimate in control, though, you’ll find ND graduated filters may be useful and a polarising filter will likely help your reflection to take on an extra lease of life. Oh, and don’t forget your tripod!

1 Focus and compose

A rock in the shallow water was used here as foreground interest and positioned in the bottom right, according to the rule-of-thirds, because the water and reflection extend all the way from the front to the back of the shot. Once you’ve composed the image to emphasise the reflection, manually focus one-third of the distance into the scene beyond the foreground.

Step 1 - Focus and compose

2. Camera settings

For this type of shot, normal landscape settings apply, so set ISO 100 and shoot in aperture-priority or manual mode. Set the aperture to f/11 if shooting on an APS-C camera, or f/13 if shooting full-frame. For the latter, this gives you a touch more depth-of-field without introducing diffraction. If shooting in aperture-priority mode the camera will select an appropriate shutter speed.

3 Use filters

If you have ND grads you may find that these are useful for retaining sky detail, so use the most appropriate strength and graduation for the scene. The most important filter, however, is a polariser; depending on your angle to the sun and the reflection in the water, by rotating the filter you can accentuate or remove the reflection. Obviously, we want to make it stronger for this image.

Step 3 - Use filters

4 Take the shot

With the composition and filters in place, and all the settings dialled in, it’s now time for the most important part – taking the shot. If you’re shooting in conditions that are favourable to landscape photography, chances are that the shutter speed will be too slow to release the shutter by pressing the shutter button, so you’ll need to use a remote release or the camera’s self-timer.

Step 5 - keep completely still

5 Keep completely still

If you find yourself standing in the water you’re shooting for the reflection, it’s imperative that you remain still to avoid creating ripples – even the smallest ripple will ruin your perfect reflection. If you have a wireless remote, stepping out of the water and waiting for it to settle before releasing the shutter is one way to avoid this, but if you’re using a remote release or self-timer stay very still.

Main Image

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