Now you see me, now you don’t! Playing with reflections when shooting through windows

by Guest Contributor

posted Sunday, March 3, 2019 at 7:04 AM EDT

By IR reader René Theuillon


Sauntering in Dialogues’, the main library of Brest (Western France), the city where I am living now, I have been fortunate enough to discover a book about Saul Leiter, a fashion photographer who operated in New York city from the fifties up to the beginnings of the Millennium.

Saul Leiter was living in East Village, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and his great passion was to photograph people in the streets, using color films which was not consider by this time as “serious photography”. Leiter was also a painter, and the style of his pictures was modern art. When shooting photographs, he frequently framed through shop windows, capturing very fugitive images of subjects in the streets, distorted and blurred by the numerous reflections of the pane of glass, giving his photographs the aspect of abstract paintings enhanced by subtle colors.

Having spent a great part of the night in the reading of this book, I decided the following day to make some experiments in that way. Of course, I am just a hobbyist, not an artist, and it would have been pure insanity to pretend to imitate such a master, but writing this article I would like to share my humble experience with my fellow photographers around the world.

Through the Looking Glass

To find reflections, I walked to an amazing place in Brest city, called “Les Capucins”. These are old workshops, which were transferred from the Navy to the City Hall, after the Navy found them obsolete and useless. The City Hall undertook a lot of work to restore them, implementing a large public library and many others facilities including some shops which are still in elaboration. You may imagine a factory with large surfaces where kids enjoy themselves skating and surfing on all kinds of rolling devices proper to break one’s neck.

The following picture, taken in a “classical” way, can give you an idea of the disposition of these premises in order to understand what I was shooting at and with what angle, though Saul Leiter used to say “The important thing is not where it is and what it is, but the manner you see it” *

“Les Capucins  viewed from the ground floor”

(Fuji XM1 + 16-50mm at 22mm , ISO 3200 , 1/160s, f/8 , Velvia)

Now let’s explore the” unreal” world. The next picture has been shot while standing outside the building and aiming at the inside. I used my old Fuji XM1, rigged with the Fujinon 16-50 mm kit lens, holding it at the level of my chest. The blur effect all around the image is due to the shadow of my body on the glass. The area in the axis of the lens, surrounded by my hands holding the camera, is quite sharp (?) and I have triggered when a kid ridding a scooter, happened to run through the corridor.

“Holding the subject in one’s hands”

(Fuji XM1 + 16-50mm at 28mm , ISO 1600 , 1/28s, f/9 , Velvia)

For the next image, I chose an area inside the building, where works were in progress in the elaboration of a shop. I was still standing in the outside and aiming at the inside as described above. I got a strange view with a sweet light. I chose to let my shadow cover the ground, and the blur effects are due to complex reflections in the glass just before me, where you can see on both sides what is behind me and the different images reflected by the glass doors on the opposite wall in the black center of the frame.

“The shadow of the photographer”

(Fuji XM1 + 16-50mm at 16mm , ISO 200 , 1/100s, f/8 , Velvia)

Another attempt in that way of shooting has been realized while standing inside the factory and framing through a window of a shop to be constructed. I found the square format very suitable for that sort of composition.

“Red dressing is very fashionable this year”

(Fuji XM1 + 16-50mm at 50mm , ISO 3200 , 1/16s, f/8 , Velvia)

I like to capture the movement. The last picture shot at the corner of an inside shop, contends a dozen of moving elements: 3 in direct view on the right, 4 kids with scooters and 5 men climbing the stairs, in the reflection of the glass on the left and at the center of the image. It’s probably not art, but believe me, it’s sport and…luck!


(Fuji XM1 + 16-50mm at 16mm , ISO 3200 , 1/30s, f/8 , Velvia)

Well, to conclude this article I would say that these were some attempts at capturing the movement through windows Of course these pictures have been shot by a hobbyist who does not pretend to candidate for a MOMA exhibition. My only purpose was to suggest you another way to explore photography and I encourage IR readers to refer to Saul Leiter work. They will discover (or rediscover) a wonderful artistic world with haze, drops of water on the panes, snow, all an abstraction around subjects perfectly framed, with a very special color rendering.

* Translated from the French version. For the exact citation please refer to US literature.

See more Reader Stories by René Theuillon

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Canon 7D with EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II
(25 seconds / f/2.8 / 16mm / ISO 250 / manual exposure)