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Quick Reflection

Whenever you deal with reflections you have multiple decisions to make. One is compositional symmetry (do you split the horizon right at the middle of the frame?). Another is exposure symmetry (should the main item and reflection match in exposure?). A third is reflection clarity (is the reflection as clear as the original?).

Sometimes one or more of these things is almost pre-determined by the scene in front of you; you'd have to introduce an effect or tool (e.g. graduated ND filter) to alter the reality.

One thing I love about Alaska (and Patagonia) is that sometimes you don't have to do much of that thinking, because the image is relatively obvious in front of you and the light lingers long enough to take your time in working it. Just compose it and shoot at your own pace.

Which is exactly what I did here just before I went to bed for the evening. The mood of the exposure reality in front of me (foreground a bit darker, far mountain in last waning light, reflection soft) was exactly the mood I felt: end of the day, with the focus slowly receding from me.

After taking this quick and dirty "check" shot, I proceeded to make a few further decisions and shoot a 10 frame pano. Now I just have to work through the details in post (the glacier in this shot is a little weak, for instance (it's the thin diagonal white line below the peak at center going to the water line).

One reason why I leave my quick-and-dirty camera (in this case a Panasonic GF5) in 16:9 format is to better assess pano framing. That's not perfect, as I often make my panos 2:1 or slightly more, but it's usually enough for me to assess the potential "energy" of a wide print.
Ridwan Thalib Rahmani's profile photoKirk Daniel Carter's profile photoThom Hogan's profile photomalika aya walid's profile photo
This one's a beauty, but I'm not sure about the black blob on the right. There's a lot of engaging detail in the mountains and clouds moving from left to right, then it just goes black.
+Andreas Yankopolus There's detail there, I just haven't chosen to lift it because this isn't the shot I'm actually working at post processing ;~). Moreover, note my comment about pano composition: this is merely my assessment shot.
Ah, I think I get it.  This is the shot from the Panosonic you took before starting to take shots to stitch together.

Interesting.  Is that your regular way of going about taking panoramic photos?
I love the way the clouds follow the shape of the mountains and frame them.
+Thom Hogan I'm assuming your final pano in this case is wider than 16:9 (or 16:9.6) as shown here. Did you choose to leave the horizon centered, or did you keep the more "moody" clouds at the top of this frame, at the expense of symmetry? I'd tend to think I would go for the latter in a scene like that (but there's a 4' canvas hanging behind me saying otherwise).
+Lior Kravitz Still trying to figure out the exact right crop. I actually have three pano sequences, and two of them start far to the right of the image I'm showing here (there are two glaciers in the bay to my right). But this is a bit trickier than it first looks, as I'm trying to figure out how I want to control the eye in the print. I suspect my final decision will be close to the  framing shown here, but maybe 2.2:1 or so. I need the eye to drive into the mirror.
I like your crop
The clouds and the water are nice compliments
in my composition classes I teach go back to history the "separate but equal" doctrine... Both "halves" of the refelction should stand on their own as a "good picture"
+Thom Hogan i personally would crop with a little less water and with the center peak a little less centered. bringing out the detail in the darker area on the right a little bit off of the left. just my preference. 
Thom, I think this image is more about mood than anything else. At least to me, it conveys what I think I would have seen in your place without the camera. In other words, the camera did not get in the way of the experience. I especially like that you left the reflection darker than the mountain itself, just the way we see things and the way it was done I see far too many digital capture images where the reflection is simply too bright for my taste. 

Looking at the clouds, I am guessing you did a little bit of HDR processing, but it is not overpowering.

"I like it."
+Richard Briscoe Didn't really do any post processing other than my usual shadow/highlight contrast adjustments, which are far from HDR. Certainly didn't do anything on post processing that image that I'd call dramatic. I doubt I spent more than two minutes creating it from the original raw file, including downsizing it to 800 pixels.
I would have gone landscape with a shot like this, but then it would take away from the sky detail. I like it cause it's different but it works. great work plus you have given me some fresh ideas.
I'm struck by the near monochrome feel of the image and the framing.  It's a powerful shot.  I know it's not related directly to your teaching point, but what lens and why did you choose it for the GF5 in this shot?
+John Clare GF5 with 14-45mm X powerzoom. I'm traveling so don't have the EXIF data with me, but I'd guess I was at 14mm (28mm equivalent). As I noted, the GF5 was my carry everywhere camera on this trip. With the X zoom, it's very compact, but as you can also see here, very capable, too. It barely fits in the arm pocket of my waterproof kayaking jacket, but it fits.
Thanks Thom. I was about to pull the trigger on a Sony RX100 as a compact walk around camera, but when you posted this image I couldn't help but consider the GF5. I would never have considered m4/3. Tough choice!
+John Clare Ironically, you can probably find the GF5+X zoom cheaper than the RX-100 right now. But they are a bit different. The RX-100 is truly a shirt pocket camera, the GF5 isn't, more jacket-pocket. The primary problem I find with the RX-100 is that it's lens is a bit weak, especially in the corners. You're also further into diffraction with the RX-100 than the GF5, all else equal.
And once the larger pocket size is open to the GF5, is a 16 megapixel GX 1 so much bigger...
It's bigger. There aren't any image quality benefits to the "bigger," though some people might like the few additional buttons/dials. Personally, the touchscreen is good enough that most stuff is available a press or two away. A GX1 doesn't fit in my arm pocket on my kayaking jacket, the GF5 does.
A silver GX 1 with 14-42 X lens is running $50 (!!!) cheaper than the GF5 with the same lens from your recommended (and my fav) vendor.
+John Clare Yeah, some of this is getting absurd. Especially with Panasonic, they dump excess inventory into the US long after they've started selling the product overseas. So what happens is that even slightly older cameras (GX1) sell for less than lower end new cameras (GF5). It gets worse when you have doubly older cameras (e.g. G3), and triply older (GF3) and quadruply older (GF2) cameras still floating around, too.

For anyone reading this trying to make sense of things: the 12mp Panasonics are clearly behind the 16mp Panasonics. The G3 is slightly worse both in image quality and touchscreen intuitiveness than the GX1 and GF5. Thus, right now, the GX1 and GF5 are the preferred Panasonics, IMHO. I happen to like smaller, so I use the GF5 over the GX1, but in terms of what you can do with them and the images they create, they might as well be the same. Some people prefer the extra dials/controls/options of the GX1. You can hook an optional EVF up to the GX1, but not to the GF5, for example. But the way I use the camera, I'm not adding anything to it; I'm using it as a small carry-everywhere camera with either one of the small pancake primes or the X kit lens, which is relatively compact.
I'm curious on your take of 6x12 or 6x17, given your comment about aspect ratio. Does the scene drive your decision, or is there a visual science that guides the choices? Thanks in advance.
Very good insight Thom, thank you.  I can't help but infer from what you've said, that the GF5 actually has a 16MP sensor that thinks it's a 12MP sensor.  Correct?
+Gordon Moat I think subjects and artist's vision determine aspect ratio, not cameras. Try photographing an alligator or crocodile. If you have to do it in 4:3 or 3:2, you're highly constricted in how and what you frame. Even head on doesn't work to fill the frame unless you're up above the front of the alligator and can fill the top of the frame with the receding back of the animal. This leads to the cropped angle head shot, often with the head turned (which adds implied motion), an example of artist's (constricted) vision. But from the side, what do you do? try to figure out what to fill the huge remaining portion of the frame with, or crop, which is an example of the subject dictating aspect ratio.

There are a few possibilities here.

1. You can succumb to your camera's aspect ratio and wander around trying to find pictures that fit in that ratio.
2. You can select your preferred aspect ratio (on cameras like the high-end Nikon's, that give you a choice, or by selecting a camera with that aspect ratio), then run around and do #1.
3. You can let the subject suggest aspect ratio and act accordingly. I tend to like wide subjects, which is nice, because pano techniques often solve my framing problem.
4. You can take the shot with "not enough lens" and then spend all day in Photoshop trying to find a crop that "works."

Frankly, our industry has punted on aspect ratios. They simply have no idea what to do for the most part. Most places that sell frames still sell 5:4 aspect ratio frames for the most part. Most cameras are fixed at either 3:2 (film & TV derived) or 4:3 (? derived). A few large format cameras are 1:1. Many compact cameras support 16:9 (HD TV derived). Dedicated pano cameras are all over the board. It's nice that Nikon gives us some in-camera crop flexibility at the high end, but then they simply had a giant brain fart and forgot that the most likely output these days is to an HD display, which is 16:9. Oops, didn't put that in.

But wait, what's the aspect ratio of smartphones and tablets? Maybe 16:9, but no one seems to have much notion of standardizing here, either. Meanwhile, we've got new higher-than-HD demand happening in Hollywood and Videoland, and once again they are talking about maybe 16:9 wasn't the right choice (though I doubt they'll override it at this point).

Panasonic tried something unique and interesting: offering near identical 18mp outputs on the GH2 no matter which of three aspect ratios you picked (i.e. the sensor had more pixels than was being used in any of the crops). I actually think this was ingenious, and hope that as megapixel counts continue to go up we get more of this. Unfortunately, it messes up angle of view calculations with lenses (or at least complicates them, as a 20mm lens is different things to different formats in this design).   
+John Clare Uh, no. The GF5 has a 16mp sensor that thinks it's a 16mp sensor. It's on par to the other Panasonic 16mp sensors, which are all better than the original 12mp sensors they used.
+Thom Hogan The frame mount issue seems a bit similar to publishing issues, like when an editor wants an image to fit the aspect ratio of a page. I use to get more demand for vertical (portrait orientation) images, which then shifted more towards horizontal (landscape orientation) image requests, seeming to correspond to more HDTV sets selling to the public.

Some smartphones appear to be headed to 1280 by 720, or the 720P HDTV standard. Tablets are a different story. One odd trend I see more often now is vertical video, because that is how people hold their smartphones. Maybe we will see some demand return for vertical images in the future.
+Gordon Moat 720P is 16:9. Basically, that's slowly becoming the standard for displays: 16:9, though computers and laptops are still resisting that (partly because it would mean you need to give more credence to the sides for on-screen UI rather than top menus/navigation/ribbon bars, and OS's and apps aren't designed that way).

But it does pose a problem for shooters. Basically, we're deep into the Black Bar Era, where you have information formatted one way (say 3:2) and are displaying it on a screen formatted another (16:9). This is leading to the same thing you point to with magazines: editors tend to crop rather than waste space.
One update:

Doh! Been traveling too much. The GF5 is a 12.1mp sensor, not 16mp. I knew that, but got it wrong, above. It is, however, a better 12mp sensor than the one in the GF3 (or at least the results from the GF5 are better, both in JPEG and raw).
Hello Thom Hogan - this is Hank Hogan - I finally got a Pen E-PL1 -  from Cameta Camera / Amazon + I got the For Dummies book on  the Olympus E-PL1,  I just read your review of the EP1 have you reviewed the E-PL1 ? - I retired to Arkansas about ten years ago - anyway, got a Fotodiox adapter and am playing around with my old lenses ! - Hank
+HarpinHank Hogan Don't hijack threads, please. This thread is about the reflection teaching point with a sub bit on my use of the GF5 as a quick and dirty compositional aid.
+Jason Tan Same thing: don't hijack threads. But yes, it should be safe, especially if you tape off all but the Fire and Ground pins, but you'll be limited to Manual and Automatic flash mode and many features of the flash won't work.
Okay Thom - I just want to learn more about photography, and read stuff that applies to my newly purchased, refurbished 
Olympus Pen E-PL1  I actually took a reflecting photo a week or so ago out at the swimming hole area of the Spadra Creek
here in Clarksville, Arkansas  - I'm mostly using the iAuto everything mode at first -   Hank
Question: Do you use the histogram on reflection shots like the one shown ?  Is this a raw ?
Jason T
Thanks for the reply and apologies Thom.
Regarding your comment above to +Gordon Moat (re: aspect ratio), I think digital cameras have made us a bit lazy (or at least made ME a bit lazy) in that sense.  When I shot film, I had to get the framing right in the camera, so I would walk around, zoom in and out, and try all different angles to get the framing I wanted.  Now I tend to resort more often to what you listed as #4, using "not enough lens" and then using photoshop to find a crop that works.  I just wanted to let you know that your comment struck a chord with me, and thanks for the reminder to get back to basics.
Hi Thom, I am - like John Claire - stuck between the choice of the RX-100 or the GF5. I would like to get the GF5, but the video capabilties of the RX-100 (=1080P) are also tempting. Is the difference between 1080P to 1080i (GF5) big enough to choose the RX-100. I would like to get better picture quality (=lens quality), so the GF5 is my favorite choice for that. I would be very happy about a short advise. Thanks Chris
Been reading your state of DX articles on  I think those articles are one of the recent causes of ulcers, anxiety, sleeplessness of the NIKON management. :)
Great colors and reflection, adds to the cold winter mood of this photo
just checked your page out - absolutely love all your photos !
For sure one of the most interesting subjects for Landscape photographers
Beautiful photo!

Ah, just saw your comment "+John Clare Uh, no. The GF5 has a 16mp sensor that thinks it's a 16mp sensor. It's on par to the other Panasonic 16mp sensors, which are all better than the original 12mp sensors they used."
I look forward to your input on the images you show. Thank you for this.
What an interesting read this is - on too of a great image. Ironically all my shots are taken using a SONY RX100...
Hey +Thom Hogan . Not sure you still follow this, but don't see a way to contact you on bythom, which I read daily. My question. With all the problems , should I hold off buying a D500? I don't want a camera problem , intermittent or not... Thanks for all your advice. 
Contact page is on the About menus in the sites.
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