Take time to reflect
Lakes provide the perfect opportunity to photograph twice the beauty of a landscape
Unexpected beauty comes in fits and starts in everyday life, but to find something special and then double it is even rarer. Calm lakes, ponds and even a puddle all have the potential to provide memorable images. If you find yourself out on a still day, it’s always worth looking for water.
Halfway through my week-long road trip I pulled up at Loch Garten, which is renowned for its red squirrels and crested tits, two very rare animals in the UK. I’d come here in hopes of finding some, and I knew they wouldn’t get too close, so I grabbed the longest lens I had, my 70200mm f/2.8. As I chased the echoed calls of the tits I found myself at the edge of Loch Garten. Frustrated I couldn’t find either animal, I took a moment to calm down and looked out across the water. It was then I noticed how calm the water was. It was as if someone was holding a mirror up to the edge of the trees. I lifted the camera up to my eye, ready to take a snap, but I hesitated. I nearly fell into ‘automatic tourist mode’: they rock up at a wonderful location and the first thing they do is get out their smartphones to take a picture. Then they walk on without really taking the scene in. I dropped the camera back down to my side and asked myself, “What am I looking for in this reflection?”
Whatever I photographed here was going to be doubled by the water, so I scoured the loch looking for interesting shapes and patterns. I soon realised that more distant mountains and tree lines, although visibly reflected, became blurred and undefined in the water’s surface; trees right at the water’s edge, though, were crystal clear. It must have been to do with the refraction of the light as it passed through more atmosphere before reaching the water.
With this in mind, I picked a section just opposite me where a tree had fallen next to the shoreline. This provided a diagonal element in a scene dominated by verticals. I then broke a fundamental rule: the rule of thirds. The reason why this photo works is because of its symmetry: the tall Scots pines are flipped perfectly upside down, and to emphasise that symmetry I had to achieve symmetry in the image. I did by placing the waterline in the centre of the frame. Now, I’m not entirely happy with this image – the bank runs at a slight angle from top left to bottom right in the frame – but sometimes we have to live with ‘near enough’. To make that bank straight I’d have had to place myself parallel with it, and that would’ve put me 400m out into
the loch. My lens choice wasn’t perfect, either: the 70-200mm I brought with me to photograph the squirrels wouldn’t have been my go-to for reflections, but the limits of the focal length range forced me to focus on the details. I pushed in to 135mm to crop out anything that wasn’t forest or reflection. Then I set my aperture to f/2.8 and ISO800, to ensure a fast shutter speed of 1/320 sec. This, in combination with the 70-20mm’s vibration reduction (VR), meant that my handheld reflection shot came out pin-sharp.