• Mark White

Playing with Reflections In-Camera

My focus was on the traffic on Interstate 5, taken through the window of an elevated train, with the window reflection of one of the train's passnengers in the frame.

Since May 1 when I was asked to cover a May Day protest at the Seattle Spheres (aka, Bezos' Balls), most of my photography time has been spent on all the "good trouble" our city has been experiencing: protests, marches, and rallies, mostly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that has exploded across our country.

Documentation for an "end" -- to achieve social justice, to find the "truth" (good luck with that!), to bear witness -- it's all good and necessary. But as the protests began to quite down recently, I realized that I needed a break from that. I had to remind myself that a camera is as much a tool of creation and joy as it is a magnifying glass or hammer.

Capturing reflections during my walkabouts is a way for me to fire my creative synapses and have a little fun on my walkabouts. I love the challenge of using existing light and imagery in reflective media -- storefront windows, water, polished steel, granite -- to create layered imagery in-camera, without the camera's composite feature, Photoshop or any special software beyond the usual basic Lightroom processing tweaks that I use in nearly all my photography.

I'm in a constant search of new ways to capture reflections, but here I'll share a few I've come up with so far.

Finding Chaos in Storefront Reflections

Storefront shot of Glassblowing Studios in Seattle, with replections of surrounding buildings as a backdrop.

Chaos is perhaps not quite the idea I want to convey. Maybe complexity is a better fit? This image is an early morning shot of the Glassblowing Studio storefront in Seattle's Occidental Place -- a district of art galleries and cafes. On its own, the studio is pure eye candy. You can't go wrong by simply taking a snapshot of the storefront.

But during an early morning walkabout, with the sun not yet risen above the buildings to east of the studio, but high enough to have given some substance and shapes to those buildings, the reflections from the studio's neighboring buildings show themselves in rich detail. The brick facades of the studio's business neighbors across the way gives the vases and other glass a rich backdrop that the studio's more prosaic shelving and display cases do not.

In my mind, the image is no longer a picture of Glassblowing Studio. It's now a rush of colors, lighting, and shapes. The store and neighborhood are blended.

Contrast that image, taken in early morning, to this one, taken yesterday afternoon, with the sun coming in from the west, illuminated the neighborhing buildings.

The vases have been replaced by new glass, and the afternoon light brings the reflected buildings into greater view, obviously.

And a few doors down from the studio...

... is a window that opens into a staircase and brick wall. The buildings and trees on the brick come from the reflections on the glass, giving the brick a mural-like quality to it. This was also taken in early morning.

Are these good photograph? I personally like them, but I'm biased because my goal in this game is to experiment, add joy to my walkabouts, and expand my creative tool set. So the photographs are successful to me for those reasons. That's what matters to me most in this game.

Reflection as Reality Spin

Look closely and you'll see the woman morphing into the storefront fabrics. This shot is taken into a storefront as a passerby enters the frame. It's a bit of a "Where's Waldo" image. As such, I'm not certain it works as a photograph. But I'm sharing it for the tweak of reality this approach provides.

Often when I'm too introverted to approach people, I use reflections are a way of catching candid, human moments (aka, spying!). When I can also use the glass to put a spin on the literal image, all the better.

Conveying literal reality for an introvert like me can be exhausting. To do it right, it requires a lot of human interaction that I'm not always able to do. Bending that reality in a way that I don't have to directly engage with people is one of my workarounds.

Granite as the Focal Point

Glass is not the only media to capture reflections in. Polished granite can work beautifully. And because composition of most granite -- unlike the uniform nature of most commercial glass -- is not consistent across its entire surface, I am often able to find a section that creates it's own focal point or provides unique framing to the subject.

In this image, for instance -- taken in Charlotte, North Carolina on an overcast winter's day -- I focused my camera into the granite facade of a building. The facade itself had a wavy, undulating finish -- it was smooth to the touch, but not flat. The effect of the waves was to distort the images that were reflected in the granite.

I found a small section of granite that reflected the tree and street sign on the left third of the image in near-perfect focus, and I waited for someone to pass through. A few steps previous and following this shot, none of the men were in focus. But I was able to capture the man in the middle at that precise focal point in the granite.

I wish the main subject was wearing brighter clothing to provide greater contrast, but I like that I was able to use the granite to put him into focus, and not rely on changing the focal point within the camera itself.

It's old school for sure -- using mechanical means to achieve what the camera or an editing app could have easily gotten me. But that's precisely the challenge that make the game of creating reflections in-camera so rewarding.

In my next post on reflections, I will share some of my documentary work where I was able to incorporate the use of reflections in camera as a way of deepening the photo's story. But before I sign off, here are a few more reflections, just for fun.

Beverly Hills, 2019.

Window Washer, Pioneer Square Seattle. 2019.

Candy Apple booth window at Washington State Fair, 2019.

If you like my photography, please subscribe to this blog and let me send you a weekly Street Pic. Every Monday I'll drop a new photo from my walkabouts into your inbox, along with a few updates. You can also connect with me on Instagram, or Facebook, but I'm much happier to engage with you here.

© 2016-2020 MARK WHITE  |  mark@mjwhitephotos.com I 206.409.1247

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