Photo journey: Reflection obsession

By Ande Jacobson

I’ve had an obsession with reflections in photography ever since high school when my mother showed me a prized black and white photograph she took of me as an infant. She captured a picture of my grandfather gently holding me in a hooded baby towel after a bath, and she not only captured a very sweet picture of us, she also captured a reflection of the shot in the bathroom mirror. As a result, I have played with reflections from time to time with varying degrees of success.

At first I tried to force some mirror shots, but for years I didn’t have a flash, so I relied on using very fast film indoors. This tended to result in grainy pictures that were often a bit trite with me pointing my camera at the mirror in the background. After several attempts, I decided that perhaps I should move outside, and instead of using man-made mirrors to generate the reflections, water would make a better reflector.

Once I transitioned to things and places rather than people, my first success was a complete accident. Just after the New Year began in 1991, I was on a short trip to Disneyland with a good friend. We decided to splurge and stayed at the Disneyland Hotel for a few days. The park and the hotel were rather scenic as the holiday decorations were still up, and while I took various pictures of some of them, they didn’t make for particularly interesting scenes. One afternoon while wandering the grounds, I stumbled upon a scene around one of the many lagoons that looked vaguely interesting. At the time I took the photo, I hadn’t realized that the reflection is what made it interesting and was pleasantly surprised when I got my film developed after the trip.

Once I was motivated to go in this broader direction, I started looking for opportunities to explore reflections on a larger scale. My next opportunity came during a trip to Montgomery County, Maryland. I went there frequently for work at the time, so I had numerous opportunities but just hadn’t found quite what I was looking for. It’s not just the place, but the lighting, time of day, and time of year come into play, not to mention the condition of the water.

In October 1994, I happened to have a little spare time one weekend and decided to take a walk around Lake Whetstone in Gaithersburg with my trusty 35mm camera at the ready. October was always my favorite month in the mid-Atlantic. The humidity of summer was gone, the days were usually quite comfortable, and the nights were crisp and clean. While the foliage wasn’t at peak color by far, there was still enough color variation to make things interesting. I needed to find a vantage point where there was enough light and reflection on the water to enhance the beauty of the location. While I shot a couple of rolls of film that afternoon, this particular shot brought several things together. The foliage is full and stands out beautifully even though the colors hadn’t reached their peak, and the still water amplified the shot nicely. The lamppost provided some nice perspective as does the person walking in the distance. There’s also just enough of a corner of a house behind the foliage to give the shot character without pulling focus. I honestly didn’t notice the house until later when I was examining the prints after the rolls were developed.

My next opportunity came in the summer of 1996 on a bike ride in the San Francisco South Bay Area, although I wasn’t quite as successful with these shots. Lake Vasona is on the way up into the Santa Cruz Mountains and is a popular picnic, hiking, boating, and bike riding spot. I tried numerous times to get some good reflection shots, but the water didn’t always cooperate. Here were two attempts, one with ducks, and one without. Unfortunately, summers in this area tend to be a little hazy.

Later that same year, I took a long weekend in October to visit some friends in Colorado. We took a day trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park while I was there, and I tried again to get a few reflection shots, this time at Bear Lake. Without filters, I wasn’t able to capture a bright blue sky often shown in publicity shots, although I probably should have played a little more with my exposure settings on these. Here are a few from various vantage points around the lake.

While not a great reflection shot, this picture from October 1997 is still one of my favorites and a framed enlargement hangs in my living room. I had always wanted to capture a unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and this isn’t the typical “Kodak moment here” shot. It’s from just below the parking lot by the toll plaza and isn’t marked as a good photo opportunity. I wanted to capture the bridge and Fort Point at its foot. Although it’s no longer an active fort, it played a significant part in California, and specifically San Francisco history. Because the Golden Gate Straights where the San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean are never truly calm waters, there wasn’t to be any glass-like reflection; however, fuzzy images of the bridge and its towers are visible in the water. Alas, the crisp blue sky is cloudless just like it was in my prized capitol shot in the previous installment of this series.

I tried one more time to get a nice reflection shot, this time at the Dixie Landings Resort while on a vacation in Disney World in November 1998. Sadly, the sky wasn’t all that inviting, and though filters could have adjusted that, the reflection is exactly what I sought. This was at the end of the waterway that linked a few of the resorts to the main transport terminal within the world. We took the boat to the terminal on multiple occasions to get to either Epcot or the Magic Kingdom during our stay, and the pilots carried guns in case they encountered a threatening gator which were apparently fairly ubiquitous. We were fortunate to not run into any while we were there. As an aside, the Dixie Landings Resort was combined with the Port Orleans Resort in 2001 and became Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.

I may have to play with reflections again in the future, although I have numerous missed opportunities that are unlikely to recur. Then again, perhaps additional opportunities may present themselves a little more readily in the future given the relative ease of digital photography compared to film. No matter though. I’ll explore some other aspects of my photo journey in the next installment of this series.

Additional photo journey essays:

My quest for the perfect capitol shot

South Meadow Fence Road

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