Mirror Challenge: Tips & Inspiration

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Man looking into bathroom mirror

Award-winning pro photographer Anthony McKee shares his top tips for tackling The Mirror Challenge.

The process of photographing a mirror is a fun yet often challenging enigma, simply because we never get to see the actual mirror itself but rather our environment being reflected back at us in it. In fact, a mirror is a photographer’s perfect magic ploy, a device that lets us point the camera in one direction while redirecting the viewer’s attention in another.

As always, there are countless ways to use a mirror in photography with the most obvious being self-portraits in a mirror, or the classic infinity shots in a mirrored lift. If you are not keen on including yourself in the image though, you can always photograph others contemplating themselves (or you) in a mirror. Giving a handheld mirror to a family member can also create some great opportunities; young children can entertain themselves for hours with a mirror, particularly if you also give them some makeup to play with (just be sure to keep the makeup away from any expensive furnishings).

 

lady looks at her reflection in a broken miorror

Rear vision mirrors in cars are another interesting way to capture reflections; they can show us where we have been, where we are going and who our crazy travelling companions might be.

At the more mature level, mirrors can be a fantastic way of capturing juxtapositions in our environment. Numerous photographers have regularly taken one or more large mirrors into the broader landscape and then photographed them to quite literally capture two or more scenes at once. If you are taking mirrors outside, the risk is that glass mirrors can break so give thought to using acrylic mirrors instead. Aside from being more robust, acrylic mirrors can also be subtly flexed to warp a reflection and create the classic fun-house mirror effect.

Another consideration when working outdoors with mirrors is their size and the effect this can have on your focusing distances and depth-of-field. If you are using a small mirror you will need to bring the mirror relatively close to the camera to make it appear a useful size in your composition; the problem with this, though, is they while any reflections might be in focus, the edges of the mirror will appear out of focus. If you use a larger mirror though, you can move it further back from the camera and you will probably get a sharper looking edge on the mirror. Ultimately it all boils down to how much money you want to spend on a mirror, and how much room you have in you car!


Car's side mirror, on the road, rural scene, twilight

Aside from manipulating reflections, mirrors are also very good at manipulating light. One clever trick is to create a mask of different shapes that you can put over a mirror, and you can then reflect light (either from the sun or a small flash head) to project those various shapes onto your subject.

Finally, if you are not too superstitious, you (or someone you don’t care for!) can try breaking a mirror and then you can work to either photograph a subject in the crazed pattern of the broken pieces, or again, you can try projecting light (sunlight or flash) into the mirror to illuminate a subject.

Anthony McKee is an award-winning, Melbourne-based photographer. He studied photography at Wellington Polytech School of Design and has worked as a news and documentary photographer in Australia and New Zealand. In 2014 he was named AIPP Australian Documentary Photographer of the Year.


cracked broken mirror