Utilizing Reflections In Your Architectural Images

Reflections are one of my favorite architectural subjects with so many options for compositions and reflective surfaces to draw inspiration from.

Let’s start with the most obvious in terms of architectural work – those glassy building facades. You can use the glassy surface to reflect neighboring buildings like you see here with Chicago’s Trump Tower reflecting the Wrigley Building.

This one is fun because when you stand at a certain position in front of Trump Tower the reflection repeats itself, creating multiple iterations of the Wrigley Building. Plus, you also get this great mix of contemporary and historic architectural designs.

In a more abstract way, you can zoom in tighter on one area of the building where a pattern from another building is reflected in its surface. Here, the Chicago Burberry facade reflecting a building across the alleyway.

You can also use the building to reflect itself. The key to this is to get very close to the building’s surface. Literally lean yourself and the camera lens against the building and look up. Yes, you’ll look odd, but it’s worth it!

Here’s the Miami Beach Convention Center and the fins that protrude from the glassy surface.

When you get up against the building surface, it creates an almost symmetrical image.

It works just as well even when there isn’t anything protruding from the building’s surface. Like you see here with Chicago’s Thompson Center.

A more abstract way to do this is all about the lens you use and getting in even tighter on your subject. With Chicago’s Sofitel, there’s this curved glass wall at the entrance. You see a bit of a wider shot here, also an example of reflecting the neighboring buildings.

But, you can see the progression of abstractness which happens as you get closer to the glass and use a telephoto lens to zero in on a smaller portion of the glassy surface.

The next most obvious reflective surface is probably water. Of course, if you want to go with a wider cityscape view just find yourself a lake, river or pond. For an abstract way to do this, don’t include the subject, just show it’s reflection.

In this shot, I was at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and only shot the walkways railing reflecting in the rippling pond.

To avoid the actual walkway, I tilted the lens, which adds to the abstraction.

Don’t overlook things like puddles or reflecting pools. Here’s a wider look with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi reflecting in the pool at Wahat Al Karama across the highway from the mosque.

As I mentioned with building surfaces, get as close to the reflective surface as you can to make that reflection larger and more of a symmetrical take on the space. In this case, lying on the ground will get you closest to that surface + provide a little stabilization. Again, you gotta be ok with looking a little ridiculous when you shoot 😉

Instead of centering myself on this shallow reflecting pool, I opted to move to the side to utilize the edge of the pool as a leading line, which adds another compositional element to the shot. Of course, I did the symmetrical shot without the leading line, it works as well, but felt like the more obvious way to shoot this space. Always try various perspectives to see what works best!

Now, what not to do. I mentioned puddles, basically the same idea as above, but here’s what happens when you don’t get close to the reflective surface…

…too little reflection, too much of what’s not interesting. In this case, Lake Michigan. It’s just not an interesting part of the scene under these conditions and you see very little of the city reflected.

For a more abstract version of water and reflecting pools/fountains, simply isolate the reflection and don’t include the subject that is reflecting. This is the AIDS Memorial in NYC. Under the canopy is a fountain, that canopy is reflecting in the fountain. I just zoomed in on those reflections.

Now for some contrasts. I mentioned the old vs new with the Trump/Wrigley shot, which is always a favorite juxtaposition. Another is nature vs man. Whether clouds, trees, the sun, etc.

Back to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I used the windows on one building to reflect the trees just behind it. Once again getting up against the reflective surface.

There’s this symmetry/asymmetry thing going on with the near symmetrical reflection but one side clear and in focus and the other warped because of the glass.

Onto clouds, definitely a favorite subject of mine. You can either include the clouds in the scene, as with Chicago’s Chinatown Library…

…or you can imply the clouds in the sky by showing only the building with those clouds reflecting either in its surface, or in this case, the windows of The Grand Palais in Paris

Ha, just noticed there’s also a tree! Two for one 😉

Let’s move onto the less obvious reflective surfaces. Polished marble is always a fun one. In Chicago’s Milton Lee Olive Park there are these polished black marble benches that work well to reflect the city.

In a more detailed or abstract way, look for marble columns. With both versions, get close to the marble. I keep repeating myself but it’s the only way this works with surfaces like this. You won’t even notice the reflections otherwise.

Here’s the Tiffany Glass Dome of the Chicago Cultural Center reflected in the nearby column.

In both of the previous examples both the subject and reflective surface are present. You can also isolate only the reflection in the marble to create this kind of dreamy perspective of the subject. As I did here with the Washington Monument reflecting in some marble sculpture outside of a museum. It adds texture and layers to the shot.

Other shiny subjects…sculptural objects like Chicago’s Bean or even something as random as a vent at Navy Pier reflecting the Ferris Wheel.

If you can’t get close, zoom in, as I did with the bean shot reflecting the Aon Center.

And if there are distracting elements, get close, look up and tilt your lens!

Even a car window can make for an interesting shot.

I’m sure I’m missing some ideas, so please be sure to share in the Facebook group or on Instagram by using #reflect_ampw.



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