How to Get Great Water Reflections

by Tony Sweet

colorful reflections
© Tony Sweet
All Rights Reserved

A bald blue sky and hot sunlight aren’t good for much, photographically, with the notable exception of reflections. What we are looking for are very bright light on the reflected subjects (trees with early spring leaves) and the water in shade. The clearer the sky and the hotter the sunlight, the stronger the reflection. This is evidenced by the color image, photographed at Greenbriar in the Great Smoky Mountains, where the yellowish color is the early spring green and the blue is from the blue sky.

The white balance setting is important. Quite simply, amber reduces blue, so in order to intensify the blue sky reflection, the white balance is best set to “daylight.” The length of time and intensity of the reflections can vary. When Sue and I shot there alone before a recent Smokies workshop, we only had 10 minutes of intense reflections before beginning to fade. On this day, with the workshop group, it went on for about 30 minutes! We were thrilled to deliver these conditions to our workshop clients!

We normally don’t shoot very much during workshops. But I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of shots, however, immediately deferring to any client needs, and calling attention to what I was photographing.

pot hole reflection
© Tony Sweet
All Rights Reserved

After the reflections, the game is not over. As many of us know, the amount of water is critical. Too much water, like after a heavy rain, can cover the rocks too much, resulting in a rushing white sheet of unphotogenic water. Too little water, like in July/August in the Smokies, is preferable to too much water because there is water running around exposed rocks, but still not optimum. The amount of water on this day had dropped from a couple of days ago and was perfect. Great scenes are always fun to photograph, yes, over and over again. The classic rock outcrop with the pot hole reflection is such a scene for me.

During processing of the Pot Hole Reflection image, as I was selecting Nik’s Viveza, I unintentionally selected Silver Efex Pro. When the image opened in the processing box, it was pretty much a finished black and white image! Serendipity is a welcome element, and I continued to finish processing the black and white accidental interpretation. Obviously, it was meant to be!

Learn more...

Pro photographer Tony Sweet teaches a number of online photography courses at, including A Quick Start to Adding More 'Pop' to Your Images and Image Design: Revealing Your Personal Vision.

Also, Tony contributed a number of beautiful images to the how-to book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light, co-authored by Jim Miotke and Kerry Drager.

About Author Tony Sweet

To learn more about photography, explore the photography classes offered here at BetterPhoto.