Ken’s Tips on Your Pics: Through the looking glass

Olga has sent in this very tender photo of her friend’s daughter Dasha reflected in a mirror. Olga had just finished doing a photo-shoot of Dasha and had put her camera away when she saw the opportunity for this photo and pulled it out quickly to grab the shot. Olga is a very keen and accomplished photographer and pointed out that she was aware of the technical flaws but did not have time to change the settings on the camera as she was worried that she may miss the photo opportunity.

Dash in the mirror

Dasha in the mirror

I really like this story for a couple of reasons; the fact that Olga was still thinking of possible photos even after putting the camera away and the realisation that getting the shot was more important than the technical quality of the image. Despite the limitations that Olga worked under she has produced a very nice photo but I think there are a couple of small things that could have improved this pic.

Mirrors often create nice pictures and I use them occasionally on shoots. It can be very difficult to get a pleasing composition because there are often objects reflected in the mirror that distract from the main subject of the picture. Choosing the right angle is very important. The angle Olga has chosen is a very pleasing one and although she did have some distracting reflections she has managed to remove them using Photoshop. She has also removed the slightly distracting objects on the wall. So far, so good.

Due to the rush and the poor lighting, this pic suffers from slight camera shake. This is probably the biggest cause of unsharpness in photos but Olga was shooting at a 1/10 of a second, which is really slow, and to be honest the softness created by this doesn’t really bother me. The biggest problem here is that the focus of the camera is actually on the back of the dress, the head and ear. This means that, although the face should really be the main area of attention and where we instinctively want to look, our eyes are drawn to the areas that are in focus, causing a conflict of interest. This would have been a much more successful photograph had Olga managed to focus on Dasha’s reflection.

This pic could also do with a slight crop. Almost all of the attention in this pic is in the right hand side of the photo. Olga has told me that she liked the wallpaper as it added to the old fashioned mood. I feel that it is quite a large blank area that again draws the eye away from the main event and would have cropped most of it out (as I have shown). There is still a suggestion of the old wallpaper but the viewer’s attention isn’t drawn to it as much and I feel the composition is now a bit stronger.

New crop with less blank wall

New crop with less blank wall

So when shooting in mirrors you have to be careful not to get distracting objects in the reflections and be careful where you focus. Generally when I am doing reflections I will focus on the actual face if the subject is looking at the camera but on the reflection if they are looking into the mirror as I have in the examples below.

Focus here is on the reflection

Focus here is on the reflection

The focus here is on the subject

The focus here is on the subject

A very nice pic Olga, taken under very difficult conditions. I am sure that you will have lots of opportunity to shoot many more when the light is better and you aren’t so rushed for time. If anyone has any ideas or comments that they would like to make then please do. Or if you would like any advice on a family photograph that you have taken, please post it on my Facebook Page or email it to me at:

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2 comments so far

  1. Thank you for selecting my photo for discussion and for your advice, Ken!

    You are totally right that the focus on the face would be better! In fact, that was my intention. And it would give me a more interesting shot if I had success with it.

    I took 4 shots (in ca. 5 seconds) before Dasha moved away from that spot. Two shots have failed due to motion blur and focus problem (alas, I had my max aperture of f4 and a moving object in poor light). One photo did get the focus correctly in the mirror. But then the girl’s position has changed slightly and the composition in the mirror went out of balance (part of the chin was hidden behind the mirror frame) and she looked less dreamy. So I was left with this shot to work with: blur on the edge of usable and my focus on a less than perfect “coiffure” that Dasha created a minute before that.

    I was wondering if the blur was too bad in this shot. Crisp sharpness seems to be the main criterium for many people when judging a photo. After all, I am glad I did not delete this soft image.

    I liked the vintage wallpaper and tried to have more of it in the frame, but when I look at your crop I see how it shifted more attention to Dasha herself. I think this is right for a child photo and makes it a stronger composition. Thank you for pointing that out!

    Thank you for your comment and advice, Ken! I hope I will have another chance to practice photography with mirrors and I will follow your advice!

    Best wishes,

    By Olga at 5:50 pm on Dec 4, 2010

  2. Thanks for all your Tipps!

    Kind regards from Switzerland!

    By Beat Mumenthaler at 7:56 pm on Feb 23, 2011

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