Using Rain Puddles to Create Unique Reflection Photos

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puddle portrait

Implementing water into a shoot ratchets up the drama in the images but also the difficulty in the execution.

I equate the learning curve of lighting water to learning how to light metal objects and other reflective surfaces. It’s not a quick learn, so be patient with yourself.

Rain puddles are awesome. I bet you never thought to run out after it rained to hunt for decent puddles. But as you can see in the image below, that’s exactly what I was working with.

Since the product I was shooting was a cologne bottle, which is rather small, the puddle didn’t need to be very wide or long.

If I was shooting something larger, like a person, I would need a much larger puddle to pull off this technique of making reflection photos.

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The setup: I was working with a rain puddle in a parking lot, on a patch of blacktop. I added a grid to my flash to keep light from spilling onto the foreground.

The first thing I was looking for was a puddle on a patch of blacktop, or dark asphalt. Typical asphalt or concrete is much lighter in color, and you need something darker to really make this work. The next thing to keep in mind is the height of the flash. Notice I placed it on the same level as the product – on the ground. If I were to light it from a higher angle instead, the light would illuminate too much of the ground around the product, resulting in a less than dramatic image. I also added a honeycomb grid to the flash to further contain the light spill.

Since the day I photographed this was particularly drab and dark, I had no problem dialing down the ambient with a moderate exposure. With a flash output of ¼ power I had all but eliminated the ambient light, leaving me with an exposure of 1/60 at f/7.1. On a brighter day, I’d likely need a neutral density filter to get rid of the extra ambient light.

Though the ambient has been lowered to an almost night-time quality, there are still some reflections of the sky and trees visible in the puddle. The lower shutter speed allowed these tones and shapes to remain. Though the puddle was not especially wide or deep, it sufficed in allowing me to achieve the glassy surface that I was going for, see below.

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The final shot: This rain puddle, shot on a drab, gray, day has been transformed into a dramatic, glassy surface.

If the sky had been clear, rather than dark gray, the surface of the puddle would have been a nice, vibrant blue, as seen below. In this shot you can see that while the blue tone is nice, the illuminated foreground is pretty distracting, not to mention the dozens of small rocks. This was because the light was elevated, lighting the concrete in front of the shoes as well, which is why it’s important to lower your lights, so that they’re parallel to the ground.

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When the sky is clear, the surface of the puddle changes to a lovely blue color. However, be sure not to light from above, because as seen in this image, the illuminated concrete makes for a distracting foreground.

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The setup: A puddle, this time a large one, is the setting for this portrait. The shoot took place right after the sun dropped below the skyline.

In this next image I was using a rather wide puddle, which was large enough to allow me to isolate my subject, Max. Once again, to minimize light spill, I set my light at the same level as the subject, rather than above, as well as used a grid. The puddle reads really well, though the reflection shows a bit of the building in the background. After I finished color grading the image in Lightroom, I opened up the file in Photoshop to remove the building.

To do this, select the trouble area and simply hit the delete key. As long as you are using Adobe Photoshop CS6 or CC, you’ll see the option to use Content Aware Fill (see below). It will typically do a decent job at filling in the selection, but minor cleanup is often needed. I used the Spot Healing Brush tool to clean up any remaining trouble areas.

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I quickly removed the building reflection by using the Content Aware Fill option in Photoshop CC.

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The final shot: After removing the building reflection, the water surface looked seamless.

Have you got any other tips for creating reflection photos? Please share them and/or your images in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Nick Fancher is a portrait and commercial photographer based out of Columbus, Ohio. His clients include The New York Times, ESPN Magazine and Forbes Japan. He specializes in a no-frills, run and gun approach to lighting. His two ebooks are available here. You can connect with him on Instagram.

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