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Using reflections in your architectural photography

While I may be a tad obsessed with reflections in my photography, using them in architectural images can take your shots from good to something much more interesting.

What surfaces can you use?

Don’t limit yourself to just windows. Is the building itself metal? How about marble? Marble can be extremely reflective and makes for some interesting added texture or patterns as well.

Keep an open mind about what you can use. Water fountains? Heck yeah. Information kiosks, you bet. If you can’t find anything that works then pull out your phone or sunglasses and use those.

Here are four benefits of using reflections when photographing architecture

Reflections can add depth and layers

Whenever you include a reflection or reflect any portion of your subject in a puddle, window or other shiny objects, you’ll easily add extra layers and depth to the image. Keep this in mind as you wander around looking for compositions. 

Think about how when you look in a mirror you see the whole scene behind you. There is a depth to what you see beyond the surface of the mirror. By putting your subject, or part of your subject as a reflection you’re making the two-dimensional photo, look much more three-dimensional. 

Just like any good landscape image, adding layers and depth is much more interesting and causes your viewer to wander around the image.

Reflections can help you create more interesting compositions

While architecture is pretty good at having its own interesting composition, sometimes a reflection added can create something different. Instead of all those straight lines and angles, using a reflective surface can throw in a few curves and wiggly lines.

reflections in window of car
An example of using a car window to create curving reflections.

It may be obvious, but sometimes a reflection will add symmetry to the scene. If you want a balanced composition, this is an easy way to do it. Although, fair warning, it may be too balanced. 

Colors and textures

Depending on the reflective surface you are using, you can add extra colors and textures to your architecture. As mentioned above, marble can add in some really interesting color or textured effect. More muted metal, such as brushed aluminum will add a softer glow to the subject.

reflections of architecture in marble column

As I’m writing this I’m trying to think of reflective surfaces that are different colors. These are a few that have popped in my head. A blue or red metal mailbox (color depends on where you are in the world). White tile walls. Green metal recycle containers. A yellow street sign. The surface of your glass of red wine. Automobiles are excellent examples of different colors of a huge reflective surface. 

Create abstracts

This is an easy one. Much of the time we tend to think of architectural photography as images of buildings, or real estate-type photos. While those are both true, there are many opportunities to create fine art abstracts with architecture. Here’s how:

Get in close. Really close. Maybe even pull out that macro gear and focus on small details of the architecture. Bricks, stone and metal can all be quite interesting up close and personal. If you don’t notice it right away, put the macro lens on anyway, or use the macro function on your phone camera and just move it around and see what you see.

My personal preferred method of getting close is using my Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens. I love to zoom in on details, shapes, lines and angles. Again, just zoom in and move your lens around. Pay attention to what you see in the frame and when you find something that makes you stop, click the shutter. 

No matter what you or how you use reflections in your architectural photography, don’t forget to just play. As usual, ask yourself what happens if … and the only limit is your imagination.

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Rafael Jones

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