improved reflections on the lake
original lake scene

Using a circular polarizer and knowing how to selectively enhance contrast with the local contrast module can make reflections stand out and give an image a much more dramatic look. Let's dive in to each of these steps to capturing impressive reflections in your images.

Circular Polarizers

Unlike most posts in this series, the first step for capturing great reflections happens in-camera. Investing in a good quality circular polarizer filter for your lens allows to significantly change the scene by manipulating the polarized light present. For example, take a look at the dramatic difference in the sky, water, and land in these photos:

after using a circular polarizer
before using a circular polarizer

This isn't only useful for landscapes - you can also use a circular polarizer to change the reflections on shiny objects like this paddle board for a significant change in appearance:

after turning the circular polarizer
before turning the circular polarizer


Once you've captured a photo using a circular polarizer, it's now time to process it with darktable. Each of these photos (and the one at the top of this post) use essentially the same technique with the local contrast module:

  1. Create a mask to cover the area where reflections are present
  2. Use the detail, highlights, and shadows sliders to significantly increase the contrast of the reflections:

mask covering only the water

This simple technique allows you to really bring out the details and contrast in the reflections:

enhanced contrast on the river
original contrast on the river
enhanced constrast on the temple
original contrast on the temple

This process can also be used with urban scenes:

enhanced contrast on the building
original contrast on the building


Alternatively, you can use the diffuse or sharpen module to achieve a similar effect, for example with the local contrast preset. However, I find that for most situations the local contrast module is a faster and less resource-intensive way to enhance reflections. It is impressive that simply using a circular polarizer filter and a little post processing work can deliver such a substantial difference to your photos.

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