Whoever said “the camera never lies” probably didn’t fully understand the photographic process. In reality, the camera can do very little except lie, or at least only portray a very small part of the truth.
The very nature of taking a photograph requires that I eliminate virtually everything around me to focus only on what is contained within the confines of the frame.
There is simply no way that the entire “truth” or reality can be captured in one image.
For example, imagine I’m at a party. Everybody is having a great time except for one couple in the corner having an argument. If I choose to photograph that couple and include nothing else in the frame, does that photograph give an accurate impression of the event? No, of course not.
Only if I pull back to include some happy party goers in the shot, some additional context, does the image begin to reflect what the real story was.
How much the camera lies, or how much truth is being told, depends entirely on the decisions made by the photographer.
So, as I see it, a significant part of the art of taking a photograph is in selecting, what, from all the possibilities around me, I choose to include in a single frame to best tell the story of that moment in that location.
How we naturally view photographs
When viewing a photograph you instinctively understand the nature of its limitations. You intuitively appreciate that there was a whole world beyond the bounds of the frame, but you also know that the choice of what to include in that frame is final once the shutter is pressed. Consequently you don’t expend any unnecessary energy trying to guess what might have been excluded. You naturally concentrate instead on what you can see in the frame and hopefully think about what it means and why it was included.
You can (and do) subconsciously draw some conclusions about what could have been out of shot based on our understanding of the world and the way things usually are, but it’s a mental process you’re largely unaware of.
If the photograph was taken indoors for example, you know that somewhere out of shot there was probably a door, a ceiling and a floor. The light falling on a subject’s face might suggest a window just out of shot. But as you can’t know for certain you don’t consciously dwell on it.
Why reflection shots are a key part of my style
My style of wedding photography and what I’m trying to accomplish when documenting a wedding dictates that the process of selecting what to include in the frame when composing an image is always front and centre in my mind.
The telling of the story of any given moment in an artistic and creative way is key to building a cohesive body of work that will have the kind of emotional, storytelling and aesthetic impact I’m aiming to achieve for my wedding clients.
What I include in the frame (and almost as importantly, what I exclude) and how I include it is crucial to achieve the end I’m aiming for.
That’s why one of my favourite compositional devices is to include a reflection in the photograph.
Quite simply, a reflection gives me the option to creatively include within the image something relevant, some additional context, that would normally be unseen outside the frame.
What makes it effective
Including extra information in the form of a reflection is particularly effective because it disrupts that normally subconscious viewing process in two ways.
Firstly, it makes the viewer consciously aware again of the world that was beyond the frame instead of having to just subconsciously construct it.
Secondly, it forces the viewer to ask further questions about what the photograph means and what else might have been happening beyond the frame. In a sense, it adds an extra dimension to an image and slightly breaks the normal expectation of how a photograph should work.
Including reflections in my work has now become such a staple of my wedding photography that I’ve found myself reigning it in slightly in order not to become too predictable and distracted by looking for reflection shot possibilities on the day.
That’s not to say I don’t still love them creating them though. I get a great jolt of creative satisfaction whenever I see a potential reflection shot and then pull it off as I envisioned, and I can’t imagine that ever changing.
Below are a few of my favourite examples of reflection shots from the past few years, some with a brief summary of why I wanted to include it in this selection.
Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section at the end.