Idyllic Reflections


Through a series of riveting abstract images that represent colours, shapes, and patterns, Andrea Stone looks at the dichotomy between illusion and reality that exists in our modern-day environment.

Joe’s Public Parking #2, Los Angeles.

My Assignment

  • Description: To create paintings of distorted urban landscapes from the natural reflections in windowpanes.
  • Duration: It is an ongoing project that began in 2011.
  • Notes: I capture hyper-focused photographs, often stripped of context. This lets the pictures take on an abstract and dream-like quality.

Throughout my life, I have been inspired by renowned painters like Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí, amongst others. I believe my seeing ‘paintings’ in city windows reflect their influence on how I perceive the world. I feel their sense of colour and design enhanced my lifelong interest in both these subjects.

I have always been interested in architecture, but had not consciously thought about creating a portfolio as such. That changed in the summer of 2011, during a visit to Portland, Oregon. While walking through the city, I noticed how the kaleidoscopic patterns of the surrounding, reflected on the windows, resembled abstract paintings. That piqued my interest. The giant glass facades resembled huge canvases, and the reflections looked like paint. All that was left to do was use my camera, the paintbrush, to create the picture I saw in front of me.

Garden Wall, Miami.

My Perspective
Developing connection, understanding and meaning are critical aspects to my work, which lead to the precision and detail in every image. While I was photographing, I correlated how metal and glass, like structure and openness, depicted the tension between elements in modern architecture. The metal framework demanded conformity, and the glass reflections seemed to explode almost in defiance of this structure. The reflections are also a metaphor for how we interpret what we see, how we experience our interactions, and how we make sense of what is in front of us. Regardless of the content, each photograph becomes a portrait of the subject, and each portrait becomes a photographic painting of line, light, form, and colour. This was my way of connecting with my audience and creating imagery reflective of the merging of my inner self with the external world.

Local Color, Dallas.

The Process 
Since Portland, I have photographed ten other cities—Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. I would decide which cities to visit based on the nature of architecture present there. A typical day would be spent shooting reflections for six to eight hours. I would select the buildings based on whether they have compelling or complex scenes reflected on them, and would then look for a suitable vantage point. Sometimes, the reflections appeared better from the ground, while others were only visible from higher elevations. There were a few instances where the buildings were too close or too far from each other, or the architecture lacked a mixture of old and new building styles. Sometimes, I even included the surrounding environment if the ‘painting’ appeared better by adding pieces of reality. It was important that the pictures met my criteria of being aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time, intricate enough to draw the viewers in.

The Tree, Los Angeles.

At the end of each day, I would make a preliminary edit of the photographs, after which I would work on them till the colour, contrast, and clarity of the image resembled my visual memory of the subject. I never alter the reflections on Photoshop, and use it only for cleaning up smudged windows. I try to ensure that the lines of the buildings are straight while setting up my frame. But for final straightening and to clean smudged windows, I use Photoshop. However, for an image to truly work for me, I must first see the ink on paper. As Ansel Adams had said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print (is) the performance.”

—As told to Nilofer Khan

To view the rest of Andrea’s work, visit her website

My Equipment: I photographed the images using the Phase One P 65+, along with the Phase One 150mm AF f/2.8, Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8, and the Kreuznach 2X teleconverter f/2.0 lenses. I also used the Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with the RRS RH-55 ball head.

Tips for Shooting Reflections in Your City

  • Determining the Angle of Light: To shoot reflections, the ideal time is either early morning or late afternoon. Ensure that your subject is well illuminated.
  • Metering to Determine Exposure: Use the in-built meter system of your camera to ensure that the highlights are not burnt out.
  • Check Your Frame Closely: Try to set your focus correctly because usually, the camera tends to detect the object (windowpanes) rather than the reflection. I use both autofocus and manual focus mode. However, I mostly shoot on autofocus mode.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Better Photography.