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MIRROR REFLECTION PHOTOGRAPHY

This is a fun project for winter. You can do it inside on a table top where it is nice and warm. All you need is a mirror and a black background. There are all kinds of beautiful subjects that are easy to work with and create wonderful images.


Setting up your table top "studio"

The best mirror is one without a frame. This makes things really easy. The mirror I use is 24"x 32" and I have plenty of space. You can get mirrors at the dollar or discount store if you don't have one around the house.

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For the black background there are lots of solutions. A super easy one is black foamboard. You can get this at any office supply store. There is a trifold display board that stands up all on its own and works great. You can also use black fabric like a bed sheet or buy a piece of black velvet from the fabric store. This is nothing tricky, you just need the reflection of your black backdrop in the mirror.

Lay your mirror down on a table that is near a window and put the black background material along the back edge (see photos below). Put your camera on the tripod with a fairly high camera angle looking down on the mirror. Play around with the camera angle and see how that changes the reflection in the mirror that you are capturing. This is something you will tweak as you are shooting.

What camera and lens to use

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You can use a DSLR or a point and shoot camera for this project. There are a variety of lenses that will work with the DSLR. Try a lens somewhere in the 35-70mm range that will let you focus fairly close. Another choice would be a macro lens or gear.

You will need a tripod for your DSLR. This will really help you design your images and use the proper settings to get good sharp photos.

Choosing your camera settings

Depending on your subject you might want the reflection to be in focus, or not. Your aperture will help you control the depth of field. If you are using a DSLR, try shooting in aperture priority mode with an aperture like f/11 for an in focus reflection. If you want the reflection to be soft focused then try an aperture like f/4 or f/5.6. If you are using a macro lens you make have to go to a smaller aperture like f/16 or f/22 to get enough depth of field to keep the reflection in focus because macro lenses produce shallow depth of field. Wide angle lens on the other hand produce a greater depth of field.

Do some experiments to see what suits your subject the best. It seems like flowers are nice with a soft focused reflection while food looks good with the reflection in focus. This is up to you and your creativity. Sometimes you won't know what looks best until you download the photos so take shots at various apertures while you are setup.

Point and shoot cameras have lots of depth of field so you don't have much choice. Your reflection will be in focus if you are using a point and shoot camera. If you are using a point and shoot try the Program (P) mode rather than Auto. That will keep the flash from going off when you don't want it to.

You will probably get some pretty slow shutter speeds with these settings so you will want to use a cable release or the camera's self-timer to trigger the shutter.

Depending on the subject you may want to use exposure compensation. If you photos seem overly bright try setting your exposure compensation to -1.0 to start with and work from there. You will make the blacks perfectly black in Photoshop when you process your shots but you don't want any blown out highlights.

It is important to review and evaluate your photos as you are shooting. Look at the back of your camera! See what you are getting and make changes as you go. Pull the card out of the camera and take a look on the computer if you need to.


Subjects

There are so many subjects that work well for mirror reflections. Flowers are always beautiful. Food is another popular subject. Use your imagination to think of little scenes and subjects. Try finding items like pine cones, knickknacks, candies, clothes pins, nuts and bolts and tools. Colorful, translucent liquids are fun subjects.

Reflective objects like silver and chrome will show things in the room - including you - in the reflection. This is not good and requires lots of fiddling to block the unwanted reflections. Avoid chrome and have more fun!

Shiny things are better shot in soft light to keep the bright highlights in the shine from blowing out. Just make sure your setup is not in direct light if you are trying to shoot shiny objects.

Short things are easier than tall things. Tall things have tall reflections and need big mirrors. Keep it under 6" or so and everything is manageable.

Adding Light

Try using window light all on its own. It is beautiful and really nice to work with. Try using natural light first.

If you need to, there are lots of ways you can add light. You can bounce some of the window light back to the shadow side of your subject with a reflector. You can position your setup close to an overhead light. You can use a flashlight to shine dramatic light right onto your subject. You could also use a studio light if you have one.

You could use a speedlight bounced off the wall to create some fill light. This works really well. Just aim your speedlight at the wall to the side of your setup. This will make the directional and diffused.

If all you have is a pop up flash the best thing to do turn it way down. Look in your camera manual and find the flash compensation. Flash compensation controls the flash output. Try -2 for a start. That will give you a kiss of fill light without ruining all the pretty light and shadow contours.

Photoshop - Post processing

The main tip for processing your mirror reflection images is to set the black point so your black background is true black. To do this, open a Levels adjustment layer and grab the black eyedropper. Click on a spot that should be pure black in your background. This will set your black point. If you don't like the result, click on a different spot until the image looks good to you.

If you shoot in raw format here is a tip for your camera raw conversion settings. Bring the Blacks slider up and also bring the Fill Light slider up. The Fill Light will brighten up the nearly black areas while the Blacks will deepen the shadows. This is a good way to get a nice rich black background without making your subject overly dark. Try values in the 20s for those sliders and see what you think.

Remember, the black background in the photo comes from the reflection of your black backdrop material in the mirror. If your background isn't black then you need to adjust your table top setup or camera position. Move things around and look from different angles. All you should need to do in Photoshop is set the black point.

Black Foam Display Board
Trifold opens to 36" x 48", $14.99
http://www.staples.com/Black-Foam-Display-Board/product_922528

Here are a couple shots of my table top setup.
 

 

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