The Puddle Games

Photograph/Erick Hercules

Photograph/Erick Hercules

Armed with an iPhone, Erick Hercules gives you a tour across the wondrous city of New York through the series of puddlegrams he has shot over the years.

My Assignment

Description: To capture reflections of subjects in puddles
Duration: I began shooting puddles in 2013 and still actively continue to do so.
Notes: You can spend all day hunting for the perfect puddlegram, but from my experience, most of them are found completely by chance.

Instagram has been a growing platform for photography since its inception. It is on the app I saw someone upload a puddlegram, which inspired me to pursue this art form seriously. To put it simply, a puddlegram is a reflection of a subject seen through a puddle. In the beginning, my photos were just reflections of anything, mainly subways or cars, but nothing emotive. As I progressed, I realised that puddles not only served as reflective devices, but could also be subjects of their own. With the patterns of a meaningful subject and those of its reflection, I could create surreal images

My Perspective

I once went to photograph New York’s Chinatown with several friends, and I saw puddles that I wanted to capture on pretty much every street corner. My friends thought I was crazy, and maybe slightly obsessed. I wouldn’t blame them, since I spent most of that day with my iPhone less than one centimeter away from puddles. I remember I almost dropped my phone at least 10 times. Soon after, I had shot enough puddlegrams to last a few weeks worth of Instagram posts. That is probably when people starting referring to me as “that puddlegram guy.”

“It is truly an amazing thing that modern advances in technology have enabled us to discover and further develop the realm of photography.”

The Process

I’m always on the lookout for undiscovered reflections. It is a stumble-upon sort of method and keeps me on my toes, ready for that certain something to catch my eye. Each day brings something entirely fresh and exciting to my lens. A lot of people think that shooting a reflection in a puddle will automatically make the picture look good. Most of the times, it is not so. The key to a good puddlegram is to find a subject or a setting you would normally photograph, and capture it as a reflection in the puddle. For me, composition is extremely important. Composing before capturing a puddlegram allows each image to have its own identity. Hence, when I find a puddle, I try to find a main subject as well, which gives context to the frame. The subject could be anything like a building, a car or even a person. I then compose the image in such a way that it emphasizes the importance of this very subject. After that, I bring my phone near the puddle, almost touching it in some cases, and shoot! You need to go as low as you can while taking the shot, as it makes the reflection more pronounced. You also need to be really close to the puddle, as the distance between the subject and the reflection reduces. Being close can also make the them seem larger than they really are. Even a tiny puddle can look like a lake. Dropping the phone in the water is a huge risk, so one should definitely be careful while trying this. In fact, I actually started an Instagram tag called #thepuddlegames inspired by flirting with the dangers of losing a phone to a puddle!

 My Equipment

I use an iPhone 5 to shoot my puddlegram series. The camera is located all the way at one corner, so you can use the lens very close to the puddle. This makes it an incredibly convenient and powerful tool for a great puddlegram. However, other phones can create similar photos too.

Tips to Keep in Mind When Photographing Puddles

Use Clean and Dark Puddles: They must be clean because sometimes you might find some distracting garbage within the puddle that takes away from the image’s composition; dark, because the lighter the puddle liquid is, or the ground color beneath it, the less contrast and reflection you get. By dark, I also mean a puddle that is located within a shade. I have found that puddles with direct contact with the sun tend to reflect less of the subject than I desire, once again, due to the low contrast that direct sunlight creates.

Lock AE/AF on the Main Subject: If the image seems to be too dark, lock the metering on something lighter or vice-versa.


— As told to Naimish Keswani
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Tags: Erick Hercules, Hercules NYC, instagram, On Assignment, Puddlegrams, The puddle games