Everyone knows what reflections are, but what are they really? Reflections are images bouncing off an object and reaching your eyes indirectly such as by bouncing from a shiny surface, mirror, water, or some other reflective object. If properly rendered, they add an interesting dimension to many realistic paintings. As an artist wishing to give your painting an extra measure of depth, you will want to understand thoroughly the proper use of reflections.
To paint them, reflections take a combination of accuracy and looseness, precision, yet a certain freedom of artistic energy. However, if painted incorrectly, they can destroy your painting. In other words, it doesn't take an art critic to spot it when it's wrong. One thing important, however, when painting reflections into a picture you need to decide upon which you will place the most emphasis, the reflection or the object. If you paint them equally, the picture may seem divided.
There are many different types of reflections, For the sake of brevity, however, I will concentrate only on water, and give tips that will help you when painting reflections as it pertains to water in a landscape.
First, water is not a mirror as some artist portray in their paintings. Only if you look across water at a very slight angle will it ever come close to approaching the reflectivity of a mirror. Some of the sun's rays bounce off the water causing reflection and some travel into it causing refraction. Because some of the light touching water penetrates into it rather than reflecting off of it, the colors of the reflected object are changed. For example, the reflection of a light-colored object such as that of a white boat, or house, will appear darker and must be painted as such or the viewer will be confused. It will not look real.
Wavelets on the water also have an effect. They tend to confuse the image by breaking up the reflection. The vertical lines are usually preserved, but the horizontal lines are distorted. As a result, the reflections off water always emphasizes vertical lines over the horizontal lines.
Here are some TIPS to remember:
The angle of incidence and the angle of the reflection are always the same.
Reflections on a smooth surface (such as a still lake) will be sharp-edged and clear, while objects on a rough surface (rippled water) will be blurry and broken.
The reflection of an object appears the way you see it if your eyes were on the surface of the water where the reflection is located.
The color of a reflection is influenced by the color of the water. If the water is shallow and the bottom shows beneath, this will also effect the color of the reflection.
If an object tilts toward you, it will seem shorter than its reflection.
If an object tilts away from you, it will create a shorter reflection.
If an object tilts left, the reflection tilts left. Consequently, if it tilts right, then the reflection tilts right.
A light subject against a dark background reflecting off a slightly moving water will elongate. Ripples are like small mirrors all at different angles sending reflections in different directions.
Caustic reflections are the reflected light by means of reflecting off waves on water. For example, spots, arcs, or bands of light glimmering off the side of a boat reflected from light hitting the waves.
Specular reflections bounce off a shiny surface. For example, the face of a man fishing reflected in the contour of a chrome boat railing.