Yesterday we took a look at how light tones are reflected in still water. The dark tones in the scene—trees and such—are a different story.
The way they reflect in water depends on two factors. One is the amount of silt or sediment in the water, and the other is the amount of light shining into the water.
If the water is dirty, and if that dirty water is directly illuminated, the darks will get progressively lighter (and usually browner), as they did in this on-the-spot oil sketch of the River Suir in Limerick, Ireland, after a heavy rain. Reflections are at their purest only at dusk, when no direct light is touching the water. Muddy water in those conditions will reflect just as well as clear water.
The reflections differ from the source in another way. In the reflection, the image is distorted by the wavelets on the water. Even if the wind is very light, tiny waves break up the reflection, and dissolve horizontal lines. Vertical lines, though, are still preserved in the reflection.
For example, this detail is from a scene in Journey to Chandara. It shows a lake in the desert at dusk reflecting a seated statue. The horizontal lines of the base of the statue are not reflected, but the verticals appear quite clearly.
Let's do a reality check on that last point. In this photo of fishing boats in a harbor, you can see how reflections favor verticals over horizontals. In the reflection the lines of the gunwales quickly become indistinct, while even the finest masts and poles are still crisp and sharp.
In the words of John Ruskin, who wrote eloquently on this subject in the early 19th Century, "All motion in water elongates reflections, and throws them into confused vertical lines."
On Monday, in the final installment on water reflections, we’ll take a look at how reflections break up images in water that's a little more disturbed.