Many objects have a combination of diffuse and specular reflective properties, which means that the reflected image may lack the clarity and detail of a pristine mirror image. Consider, for example, the reflected image visible on an aluminum baking sheet, plexiglass, a fogged up mirror, or shiny granite. Somewhat less specular surfaces can be especially interesting in the way they reduce subjects to a blur of abstract colors. A pear sitting on a table might reflect nothing more than subdued greens and reds on the surface of the glossy wood.
Mirrors are traditionally comprised of glass laid upon an aluminum or silver backing for an opaque, tremendously specular surface. However, glass without the backing is also highly specular, and its “opacity” depends on the proportion of light on each side of it; the side with a higher proportion of light shining on the glass has more specularity. This is also, in part, how one-way mirrors work: the window in a brightly lit interrogation room yields a specular reflection back like a mirror, whereas the observers are located in a dark setting that doesn’t throw (as much) light against the glass. Consequently, if you want to make glass more mirror-like, increase the differences in the amount of light on each side, either adding light to the side with your subject, or darkening the side opposite. If, however, you want to juxtapose the a subject’s reflection on one side of the glass with the setting or subjects that appear opposite, try to balance the light on each side to some degree.
While traditional mirrors are flat, convex and concave “funhouse” mirrors produce distortion that can be comical or simply unexpected. The same is true of other convex or concave reflective surfaces, such as the front or back of a common spoon.
Consider objects with very high specularity whose surfaces have been disrupted in some way, and observe the way such a disruption affects the integrity of the reflection. Examples here abound, including a cracked (but intact) mirror, crumpled aluminum foil, or a water-based reflection disrupted by falling raindrops.
See if you can incorporate reflections against surfaces that are very small or irregular in shape, letting that surface serve as an unexpected frame or abrupt crop on the reflection. Small or irregular surfaces might include the blade of a highly polished knife, the overflow drain in a bathtub, a very small puddle pooling on the asphalt, or a compact mirror.
Can you find a single subject’s reflection that appears on multiple, discontinuous surfaces, such as a sink full of individual metal pots, broken shards of glass, or a collection of small puddles? The result might be a reflection divided, or it might yield a reflection repeated throughout.
You might take creative liberties with your reflections by deliberately changing them to reflect a different reality, generate an unsettling or unexpected viewing experience, or otherwise make a statement about the subject’s relationship with its mirror image. A favorite example of creative processing as it relates to reflections appears in Tom Hussey’s “Reflections” series. On the flip side, if you want realistic fidelity between your actual subject and the mirror image, be sure that any processing, cloning, etc that you do is reflected on both sides.
Mirrors and reflections are, of course, commonly used in the arts for their metaphorical significance. Reflections are often thought to suggest narcissism, wisdom, truth, introspection, transformation, illusion, past (the area behind the subject reflected in front of her), or alternate reality. In literature, mirrors and reflections play a significant role in such works as Snow White, Through the Looking Glass, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Again, processing and compositing can be used to emphasize these metaphors or tell an interesting story.