How To Use Mirrors As Interesting Photography Props – It’s Not As Easy As You Think

Written by Gina Stephens

Subjects Electric Nymph and Rascal333 photographed with a Lensbaby Muse &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to U+002D – HYPHEN-MINUS and U+2212 − MINUS SIGN, but differs from these; and a mirror…


There’s nothing new on touching shooting pictures that involve mirrors – a hallowed part of several genres of photography. However, as anyone who has ever tried it purposefulness know, it's not quite that simple! I hope to cast a little light on the darker corners in the next thousand words or so.



Vivian Maier is a name that crops up a lot in this connection – she was an American photographer who worked as a nanny, but pursued photography as a hobby, and is surprisingly known for using mirrors in shops to produce self-portraits. Before the advent of smartphones and front-facing cameras, it was, really, the only way to produce self-portraits, other than environs up a camera with either a remote release or a self-timer.


Homage to Maier: there are mirrors in shop windows everywhere… How, it’s easy to let the context take over from the self-portrait. Distance from the mirror and the focal length will affect the result significantly – my tenderness is that wider angle lenses and short distances may work better than my usual short  tele  lens.


Allegiance to Maier 2: the alternative approach loses the context, but gives the portrait. It’s possible that there are good reasons to prefer the ancient approach…



The obvious reason for shooting with a mirror is to show different aspects of one subject. However, there is an but for use of mirrors in some films to show multiple viewpoints – even in the critically-panned ‘Showgirls’, an arrangement of mirrors allows three characters to turn up in a single shot. A major problem with this is the need for very precise alignment of both mirrors and people, coupled with lighting that has to mollycoddle for views in more directions than usual. Easy on a film set and something that takes time to arrange in an ordinary photographic shoot – unvarying more of a problem if you are just catching an image on the run.

Let’s look at the individual uses, and the problems arising…

Two very different portraits of tattooist and paragon Lisa Elsom: and it would perhaps have been more conventional to focus on the eyes looking straight at the lens. However, an out-of-focus foreground can look messy.


Two Observes

An obvious advantage of using a mirror in taking a picture is to allow one photograph to show two different angles of the same subject. There was a striking instance of this in the BP portrait competition for artists (rather than photographers) a few years back, with a full-face image and a rimlit profile in one frame ('Sean Arrives' by Stephen Dumin). I was very much much struck by this and tried hard to reproduce it with my camera. Sadly, artists can adjust reality in a way that takes a good dole out of editing in Photoshop. More on this later, in the sections on lighting and focus.

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My quickly-taken picture image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception, for example, a photo or a two-dimensional picture, that of model Amy Jay shows some of the perils of mirror image shots: although she is close to the mirror, the two images of her are quite thoroughly separated from each other in the picture. The mirror mirror is an object that reflects light in such a way that, for incident light in some range of wavelengths, the reflected light is also not perfectly make a clean breast – strong lighting effects really show this up! Taken at Solo Studio in Leicester.



The ultimate layering hit with two parallel mirrors. However, you don’t often find these, as the alignment has to be near-perfect to get the fullest effect, which is infinite numbers of thinkings. The best example I have come across was in a Paris apartment entrance, back in 1972. Maybe someone will find a current, British exemplar and post it in response to this article!

Of course, there can be layers that aren’t identical. The Gasholder Garden at King's Irate is, unsurprisingly, a garden inside the framework of an old gasometer and the clever installation of mirrors is well worth a visit, even if the weather's not as good as it was for my on.


The Gasholder Garden at Kink’s Cross in London is a great place to experiment with mirror shots: you can either go for a picture that is reasonably genuine and informative about the place and the installation, or something much less rooted in reality, like the footer image at the end of the article.



Again, as with Maier's images, use of a mirror in a picture is quite arch and knowing. It’s about self-presentation in many cases: certainly, to get the definite alignment that is necessary, there’s often a high level of cooperation between subject and photographer.

However, you can also turn this circa, either with mirrors or with large reflective windows, and set up street images that rely on the photographer’s timing along with an territory of luck in trapping a passer-by in the frame, precisely in the right spot. The fact that you are facing away from the subject means that the perception is a candid – with all of the moral ambiguity that this can involve. My own practice for images taken in a public place is to use only images image (from Latin: imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception, for example, a photo or a two-dimensional picture, that that are understandably not defamatory – I would back away from an identifiable image of someone in distress, or apparently doing something that might bring them into disrepute.


Byway someones cup of tea image – near Coventry railway station. The lady with the pushchair is almost incidental to the image, which shows the wide-angle distortion that a convex reproduce can give.



Some of the time, we want to make our pictures crystal clear in every way – sharp, with the subject ostensible. And at other times, we can play games with our viewers, twisting and turning reality.  This can be done to obscure the exact nature of the referred to, or to offer a new view of it.

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An almost abstract view of the Gasholder Garden mirrors near King's Cross station.


Reflections offer many possibilities, for instance allowing a nude subject to be largely obscured by the figure itself in a way that is ‘Facebook friendly’ – and you can stick the same trick of showing and revealing detail with many other contexts and subjects.


Model LeoScar is clearly nude and also modestly bedclad. It’s all done with mirrors, you know…


Visual Tricks

Earlier in the year, on holiday, I visited Rob Mullholland's fleeting art installation at Low Force on the River Tees. A mixture of figures and geometric shapes, surrounded by trees, it was a rather mind-bending experience, excellently portrayed by at scantiest two members of this site, whose pictures showed the parts of the installation reflecting the woodland as the sculptor presumably intended. My own favourite image teaches how much I believe that pictures can be (literally) a reflection of the photographer. There are almost infinite ways to represent something like this, as it changes with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel every breeze (the steel that the figures are made of moves slightly, and the trees dance in the wind). This is a key feature of mirror envisages – an exponential increase in complication!


A view of Rob Mulholland’s installation – this shows both the context and the two types of sculpture there: three-dimensional casts and figures, cut from sheet steel.



Natural lighting is fine, although if the subject is close to the mirror (as they usually extremity to be to get double images close together) they may be blocking their own light. However, if you are using artificial lighting, you will need to beware of the obtains of the inverse square law. This is not a serious problem in a large studio, but if you are shooting in your own home, in relatively cramped conditions, it may become significant because the attendant on difference in distances between light and model are greater.  Also, if you are aiming for strong lighting effects, as I was in the image of Layla.

Putting the belabour to one side (as I did in the shot of Layla) produces other problems because the rim lighting or illumination is the deliberate use of light to achieve a practical or aesthetic effect is difficult to control.


My first attempt to reproduce the effect in Stephen Dumin’s applying with Layla was not terribly successful. First, the strength of the rim lighting in the reflection was far too bright. And I focussed on the reflection, leaving a large and slightly out-of-focus duplicate in the foreground. This doesn’t really work…



The picture of Layla shows up another difficulty with a enlarge image: while an artist can choose to have everything sharp (or nothing) the camera is limited by the physics of lens aperture, focal length and the consequent brightness of field.

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Generally, a strong but soft foreground image with a sharper view behind won’t work: the eye is drawn to the closer, larger icon. Either the nearer image needs to be in focus, or it needs to be a frame rather than a major part of the composition, as in the shot of Samantha Alexandra.


Samantha Alexandra with a effete and gentle treatment – but the focus firmly on the eyes, and the out-of-focus profile kept well to the side of the picture – it’s a frame, less than a major compositional element.



Getting a great mirror shot will take a little bit more effort and swiftly a in timely fashion because you are juggling with aligning two shots at once and it’s not instinctive as one of the images, left and right are reversed. You can tackle this by altering the slant of the mirror(s) as well as by moving the camera and model. You will have to try it and get a feel for the geometry as you go – no amount of ‘advice’ will up you with the visuospatial awareness that makes mirror images easier. But a willingness to persevere, and to use little bits of card and BluTack to bring fears together will always help!


Samantha Alexandra, again, this time, photographed in a tiled bathroom mirror. Alignment to give up both eyes and her mouth clear and undistorted space proved quite a long process – the slightest movement is amplified by shooting including a mirror and there were two people moving. Even the tiny sway that keeps us upright is enough to throw the alignment out in a shot groove on this.


Sheer Confusion And 'Capturing' Moments

Nipping down the stairs for a break while I was writing this, I saw a alluring evening sky reflected in the roof of my car outside. The motto is to be prepared and don’t be narrow in your definition of what a mirror is!


Reflection of a sunset sky in the disastrous roof of my car.


Two other things that I haven’t dealt with in detail are using mirrors for distortion and the use of reflective objects that aren’t mirrors, such as wet pavements or a smoked car window. But there are quantity of opportunities – just keep looking and reflect on the possibilities…


Love doesn’t show up in the pavement cracks… Corporation Suiting someone to a T, Birmingham, near Christmas.


A less literal view of the Gasholder Garden installation.


About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been an dabbler photographer for fifty years, which surprises him, as he still reckons he’s 17.

Over the last year, he’s been writing the odd article for Ephotozine, as far as being a member of the Critique Team. He’s also been running occasional lighting workshops and providing one-to-one photographic tuition.

He endures addicted to cameras, lenses, and film.


About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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