Recomposing Street Photography with Reflections

By Tony Wu

Reflections? A cliche? Almost 4 months have passed since I got back to street photography. I found myself more and more intrigued by the fancy vision created by capturing reflections. Yup, shooting reflection images seems to be quite straightforward and even has become kind of a cliche—find a lake, a puddle, a mirror, then shoot the axial symmetry, and sometimes flip the image to “wow” your audience… Is that what you thinking now or what you swipe away from when scrolling through your Instagram feed? Fortunately, these kinds of images won’t appear in this post, because I myself have also been fed up with my own work when taking photos like this. So, what is the charm of reflection images? Let me try to demonstrate through some my own work. Corresponding description and comments are below each photo. This is a half-tutorial half-showcase of my work. Hope you enjoy!

Connecting the spaces

The reflections can connect the physically unattached spaces visually, creating a new sight-leading clue for the image.

Activity around a reflective installment
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

Viewing from left to right, it creates a feel like the little boy is getting photographed by the woman in white.

Activity around a reflective installment.
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

Another shot at the same spot. The space is almost equally occupied by the characters. But two legs are “transplanted” to the woman in the center.

A boy peeking at me
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P
Distorted and fancy view from the unalignment of the upper real world and bottom part of reflections
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

Same spot, but not on the same day. You can see I love this place so much.

Children “meeting” at the interface of reflection and real world
Light Lens Lab Elcan 50/2, M10-P

Above. Took this when I was leaving my house to school. It was a hard lit afternoon, I was just fiddling with the exposure settings on my M10-P and suddenly I caught the moment when the spaces and people were getting bounced back and forth in the frame. The reflective surface was pieces of black stone of the pillars but lightened up by the hard slapping sunlight. The boy was “walking into” a space that was supposed to be after him already; the dad and girl were coming out from the right but actually would be appearing from the left. Funny, right?

Weaving the spaces in and out of the fast food restaurant and the street crossing.
Light Lens Lab 35/2, M10-P

Took this shot when I queued up for the seats for a Japanese beef rice meal. As it is for this case and the above, strong lighting is a friend if you try to shoot reflections outdoor, because it can light up the scenes in the reflective surfaces. Let’s count the spaces and layered involved here…

Overlapped views through the window and reflected by the window
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

“Multi-exposure” in one shot

Above. I was experimenting the exposure, to avoid the light loss of the reflections. Then suddenly I wanted to shoot closer to this large window. This happened to be a right moment, the silhouette of a walking man overlaps the yellow column, and the smoking man coming just beside the column to fulfil the main focus point of the composition. The other people’s positions spanned the whole frame horizontally. I’m quite satisfied with the shot. This kind of reflection is like stitching and sewing pieces of “cloth” of the world together. Or you could say, achieving the multi-exposure with just one click of shutter.

LV Yayoi Kusama and a little girl
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

Discover your unique vision

The shot above was taken outside the LV shop in Central, Hong Kong, during their collaboration with Yayoi Kusama, the famous Japanese artist. I was just shooting the window and found the photos dull. Then I came closer and inspected the shinny stainless steel frames of the window, and then a new world unveiled itself to me.

A glimpse of Tsim Sha Tsui from a narrow reflection
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

I was waiting for the traffic lights to cross a very crowded intersection at the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. As always, with my curiosity, I found another stainless steel frame for reflections – but the angle allowed was very restricted. If I come closer or rotate more, my hand and camera will appear in the reflection. I took a few attempts and thought this is quite iconic for Tsim Sha Tsui: the classic iconic red taxi of Hong Kong, the shopping window and the hand holding a cup of bubble tea. The white on the right is the exterior wall of the shop.

Reflections from the full length mirror inside a shopping mall
Voigtlander Ultron II 35/2, M10-P

Deepen the field of view

Above. The Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. I was going through the mall to reach my friends. The ad image on the bottom right corner drew my attention. I thought the action and eye sight direction of the man on it could interact with the scene in a way. So I stopped here for 5 minutes, took a bunch of shots, experimenting with the mirror and the spaces on the left.

Composed reflection layers in and out of a shopping mall
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, the shopping heaven for tourists. The reflections bring the inner view of the shopping mall onto the layer in shot. The reddish figure on the left, is displayed on a screen for advertisement. The letters “LONG CHAMP” are reflected by the glass of the nearby bridge. Also, the color blocks are large and contrast with one another.

Mong Kok
Voigtlander Color-Skopar P 21/4, M10-P

Mong Kok. Using the iPhone screen protectors to show another angle of the street view. The iconic business of the street is then connected with the street view… well, I guess it is more interesting than shooting the street straightforwardly with wide-angle/tele lens…?

Similarly, this kind of “one-shot multi-exposure” can be applied to increase the density of visual information of your images.

Redirect to the shielded view

Use reflections to show things you can’t see from your perspective. Like the faces of people.

Washroom mirror reflections.
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

I just finished drying my hands when I turned around and saw the upcoming scene. I quickly guessed the distance and snapped this at f/2.8 without raising the camera to mu eye. My zone focus (capable of f/2-f/2.8) and “blind composition” (framing in heart) skill is something I have practised a lot. To be honest, the reflections here are a surprise, I didn’t expect it to work this well.

Fun in the bus window
Voigtlander Ultron 35/2, M10-P

One night I took on the bus, heading back home to end my day of photo-walking. The two Japanese girls in front of me, at a distance within 2 meters, were playing energetically. I took a lot of shots from chest level and also looking in the viewfinder after I was sure they didn’t notice a camera man here. I intentionally blocked the far side girl’s face with the girl in the real world part, and showed her exaggerated funny face on the window.

Joy of twins
Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2, M10-P

The boy was having fun by doing various poses and switching his facial expressions in front of the glass. I picked an angle to let the statue behind have “another” head, to duo with the reflections of the boy. Two months later I revisited this place in Central and found the hotel disabled this glass by wrapping it in some wallpapers. No one can reshoot here now, huh.

A worker decorating the Prada shop at midnight
Voigtlander 35/2 Ultron II, M10-P

Wandering at the shopping heaven in Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsui, but at midnight with my friend. Captured this interesting scene with the help of reflections. I guess this is much better than taking a photo directly into the shop and showing what he is doing plainly.

Some examples above also demonstrate this purpose, so I won’t show more photos here, but I just wanted to add that all this is also a great way to circumvent possible interruptions to other people and increase the “depth of layers” of the photo.

 

Young couples and old friends in the metro. The reflection of the couple fill the center of the image and also showing the facial expression of the girl better
Light Lens Lab 35/2, M10-P

Fill in the blanks in composition

This is not a common practice. However during the post is being scheduled to post, I realized this trick is possible and make use of it, which is the shot above.
When my attention was drawn by the young couple in the distance, I quickly noticed the two older friends in the front having a connection and contrast with them, in terms of their behaviors and colors of the outfits. I then also realized the reflection of the young couple in the middle was the one last puzzle to fill in the blank between them. A common issue of shooting a duo for comparison is, you have a blank space between them to deal with. And this time I taught myself how to do!

In conclusion

I hope my small piece of writing here is interesting to you and might inspire you to grab your camera and go out for a walk. The key is, keep your curiosity high to explore the vast possibilities from reflections. Get closer if you think it is not enough. Take a few steps around if you don’t see the ideal vision. Stay healthy and creative!

If you are interested in my work, you can find me on instagram: Greenhillboss

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About The Author

By Tony Wu
A streetphotography and rangefinder hobbyist from China. Computational Chemistry Phd student. Living in Hong Kong SAR and Guangzhou, China.
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Comments

Shahrin Ratry on Recomposing Street Photography with Reflections

Comment posted: 01/10/2023

Exploring street photography through reflections adds an intriguing layer to the narrative. It transforms ordinary scenes into captivating stories, offering a fresh perspective on urban life. It's a creative journey worth embarking on!
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Alexey S. on Recomposing Street Photography with Reflections

Comment posted: 24/08/2023

Impressive and inspiring results. Many thanks
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Geoff on Recomposing Street Photography with Reflections

Comment posted: 17/08/2023

A really interesting piece Tony showing imagination and a good deal of thought in your compositions. It does, as you say, give lots of different layers to each photo and great to look at. It also reminds me of the 90s when I worked in HK for a while, a wonderful vibrant exciting place. Maybe one day I will return if possible.
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Tony Wu replied:

Comment posted: 17/08/2023

Thanks Geoff! The charming points and also the potential troubles of Hong Kong are the stillness of the developments here. The red taxi cabs are still iconic as they have been in the 80-90s. The street views are quite the same atmosphere but sadly the neon signs have almost gone completely due to the laws concerning safety and the maintenance fees to meet the lifted standard. As a boy growing up in Guangzhou (Canton), a city which shares deep cultural and economic connections with HK, I have been experiencing the differences in many aspects more and more consciously. I want to take my record of the two cities!

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Tony Warren on Recomposing Street Photography with Reflections

Comment posted: 03/08/2023

Great images Tony and an excellent demonstration of what only the camera can do. You have captured some amusing, moving and thoughtful images that are a delight to view. Thank you.
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Aad on Recomposing Street Photography with Reflections

Comment posted: 03/08/2023

Very innovative and funny! Nice results.
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