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People are captivated by reflections, and photographers eagerly seek out still bodies of water in order to capture stunning reflection shots. But a perfect reflection may be closer than you think, especially if it has just been raining.
Puddles are an incredibly useful if perhaps surprising source for reflections. Puddles are generally shallow and found in protected areas or depressions, which means that they are likely to hold smooth, still water. They can also be found in many different locations, providing a variety of options for subjects and compositions. Finally, puddles are so mundane and small that they are often overlooked, so you can create unique and surprising images that others likely missed.
The trick with capturing amazing reflection photos using puddles, is to get down low. You want your camera to get as close to the surface of the puddle as possible. This will make even a small puddle appear expansive in your final image. I recommend putting your hand or a finger under your camera to steady it and keep it out of direct contact with the water. It is also useful to have a small bubble level attached to your camera to judge whether your composition is level.
This puddle reflection technique works equally well whether you have a DSLR camera or a point-and-shoot. I often use my point-and-shoot for these types of shot, as it is much easier to simply lean down and hold it near, or over, the puddle when shooting, and I am much less worried about it getting wet. When shooting puddles with my DSLR, I am much more likely to squat down to better support the camera with both hands and keep it out of the water or mud.
Puddles do not need to be very large for such photographs, but an ideal puddle would be at least a foot or more, long and wide. Puddles that have formed naturally on roads, or on the ground, provide a better transition from subject to reflection than puddles that are surrounded by a set boundary like a curb or a bank. You can also think beyond traditional puddles and try the same technique with wet roadways or stone pillars, which often become highly reflective when wet.
Above is one of the classic scenes from the Grand Tetons: the abandoned houses of Mormon Row. It had rained the previous day, and much of the night, and in the lower right-hand section of the photograph, you will notice a fairly unassuming puddle remaining in the mud.
Getting down low and holding my camera just above the surface of that puddle allowed me to capture this shot. Despite the slight breeze and rippling of the water, this reflection clearly highlights both the abandoned building and the incredible mountain view behind it. Merging three different compositions provided the panoramic view below.
Next time you find yourself in a wet situation, make the most of the puddles around you. Get down low, and you may be surprised at what your camera captures compared to what the scene looks like to you standing up higher. Do not limit yourself to taking the same shots as everyone else – try something new!