I love capturing great reflections on glass and metal with my DSLR or my iPhone. It’s not easy to learn about how to do it, though. If you Google “reflections on glass and metal,” you’ll find lots of articles about how to avoid reflections on glass or metal objects. They are primarily geared towards photographers who are shooting products. For the rest of us, capturing those reflections can add layers of interest and drama to an ordinary photo.
Some buildings are a piece of art.
I was fascinated as I watched this building in the Itaewon section of Seoul, South Korea come to life. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what it would become. In the end, when the construction walls came down, it became one of my favorite quirky buildings in a city that is full of quirky architecture.
No matter the time of day when you are there, the lines, angles, materials, and details make an interesting photo. If you can throw in the reflection of a beautiful sky, so much the better! It really is a feast for photographers who want to capture great reflections on glass and metal.
Can you imagine designing it, let alone keeping it clean?
I was enjoying an afternoon stroll in the Back Bay of Boston Massachusetts when I noticed this reflection on the windows of 200 Clarendon. This building was formerly the John Hancock Tower and sits across the street from Trinity Church. Just look at that clash of architectural styles. It was the perfect chance to capture great reflections on glass and metal.
Trinity Church was built in the late 1870s, in the Romanesque style. The architect was Henry Hobson Richardson. When it was built, it was considered an architectural treasure and has been named one of the “Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States” by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Across the street you’ll find 200 Clarendon, which was called the John Hancock Tower until the tenants changed. It was built almost 100 years after the church and endured years of architectural controversy due to unexpected design flaws. Real flaws. The windows started falling off the building and crashing to the sidewalks below! In the end, the original windows were all replaced to correct the problem.
I love the mix of old and new, the ornate church built of stone, and the modern minimalist building seemingly built entirely of glass. I also see some irony in it. Both buildings, an Episcopal Church and a life insurance company, were built to deal with life and death.
To shoot this photo, I stood next to the church and shot up at the glass building at a slight angle. Here’s a warning, though. Don’t use a polarizing filter on your lens. It will erase the reflection and show the polarizing film in the modern glass windows instead.
Tricking the eye while capturing great reflections on glass and metal
On the east side of the Korean peninsula, close to the border with North Korea, sits Seoraksan National Park. A hike through the park and up into its mountains will give you plenty of chances to get reflections on water, but there is one perfect place to capture a reflection on glass.
If you stand to the side of the Seoraksan Cable Car building at just the right angle, and you’re patient, you can catch the cable car entering the building with its reflection on the glass windows.
At first glance, this photo looks like a picture of a complete cable car. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll realize that it’s only half a cable car, with the other half hidden inside the building.
Here’s a tip for shooting this type of reflection on glass.
Since my subject was moving and I wanted to shoot when it was halfway inside, I set my camera to Continuous Shooting Mode and held my shutter button down to quickly take a burst of photos. That way, I’d be able to choose just the right moment from the burst of photos. (On an iPhone, you’ll do the same, using Burst Mode.)
Another thing to consider is how large your subject is and how close you are when you are capturing a great reflection on glass and metal. In this case, I was close, and the cable car was large. That meant that its reflection was closer to me, on the glass windows.
I know that’s hard to understand since the cable car seems so straight in the photo like it’s all the same distance from me. But if you count the building windowpanes from the center of the car to the right end of the car, the right tip of the car is in the 5th window pane coming towards me.
As a result, I set my aperture to f/8.0, to allow a deeper depth of field and focused on the center of the cable car.
How can you include people when you’re capturing great reflections on glass and metal?
Here’s a fun shot of my friend Shelly. We were in Xi’an, China, walking on the top of the City Wall. I was taking photos of the red lanterns and the wall when I noticed the reflection of the lanterns in Shelly’s sunglasses. This definitely called for a portrait shot! I quickly focused on her glasses with a f/stop of f/5.6. Isn’t it a cool shot?
But what about metal?
A few years ago, we were lucky enough to have the Budweiser Clydesdales visit our town. Better yet, the public was invited to watch while the horses were readied for the parade. What a treat! This beautiful horse was getting his last-minute grooming when I noticed his face reflected off the metal side of the horse trailer.
I wanted the focus to be on him and his handler, not on the truck behind him, so I set my aperture to f/4.0 and focused on his right eye. His reflection is almost misty, due to the reflective quality of the paint and metal. But you know that it’s the horse.
Now it’s your turn.
It’s time for a challenge. Grab your camera and head out to capture some reflections on glass or metal. Remember that you have a choice. You can compose your photo of only the reflection or you can include some of your subject along with its reflection. Try both ways and see which you like best.
If you want to shoot with your iPhone, give it a try. You can also read my post about shooting reflections with an iPhone here.
The website Digital Photography School also has a good article about shooting reflections. You can find it here.