Painting Waves: the Coincidental Artist

If you’re looking at my photographic work, it’s obvious that reflections are an important theme: in mirrors, in water, in glass, in metal, on ice, on wet asphalt. I even have a board devoted to the subject in Pinterest.

Today I want to talk about a special kind of reflection. Under the right conditions, reflections in an undulating surface start resembling oilpaintings. With water as a canvas and coincidence as an artist. Impressionistic scenes that you only need to capture with a camera.

The right circumstances

So what exactly are these right conditions? To begin with: it has to be sunny. Midsummer, middle of the day, this is usually not the best time for photos. For these reflectifications, as I like to call them, it’s just perfect.

The sun has to shine on facades, trees or other objects that are reflected in the water. Shaded surfaces produce reflections that are too dark, colors that are too bleak.

Also, the wind must be just right; this is depending on the location. In my favorite search area, the old harbors in downtown Rotterdam, it should actually be as good as windless. In canals, ponds and other small or secluded bodies of water, a little more wind may be acceptable.

You do not want too many waves because the shapes in the reflection will no longer be recognizable. The best you’ll get is an abstract painting. Even locals probably won’t know the image below represents The New Institute.

Reflection of The New Institute in Rotterdam, barely recognizable because of the many ripples in the water
The New Institute, reflecting in its own pond


A perfectly smooth surface, however, is not ideal either. The water in the pond in The Park was so utterly flat I could as well have photographed the Euromast directly. Although the floating leaves make for an interesting alienating effect.

Reflection of the Euromast and a couple of autumn trees in a mirrorlike water surface of a pond in the Park in Rotterdam

Rivers or other places with running water and/or passing ships are usually not flat enough to serve as a mirror. I’ve never seen a smooth Nieuwe Maas, for example, so a reflectification of Erasmus Bridge is rather unlikely.


For the following image the motion of the water was just right. The two cranes and the residential towers New Orleans and Montevideo are heavily distorted but still recognizable for the attentive viewer.

Reflection of a construction crane and two residential towers in the waters of Rijnhaven
Cranes and towers


I choose the crop of such pictures in such a way that only the reflection is visible. The omission of context is essential. However, a duck, buoy, leaf, piece of driftwood or a shadow can add something extra to the image.

From almost the same spot as the picture above I made this image of Rotterdam’s new icon, De Rotterdam and the somewhat older KPN building:

Reflection of De Rotterdam and the KPN building on the Southbank in Rotterdam in the water of Rijnhaven
De Rotterdam building

Shutter speed

Rippling water surfaces move rapidly so the shutter speed should be as short as possible: 1/1250 second or something like that. But that’s not a problem when shooting sunlit objects in the heat of the day.

Do we recognize the building below? Real Rotterdammers do, of course: the new Luxor Theater:

Reflection of the New Luxor Theatre in the water of Rijnhaven in Rotterdam
The New Luxor Theatre

Mirroring the reflection

Finally, some Photoshop operations are needed for the finishing touch. I use flip vertical to mirror the reflection back. If necessary, I distort the picture in such a way that vertical lines are really vertical, as befits a true architectural photograph.

I also make some adjustments in Brightness/Constrast, Shadow/Highlights and Vibrance/Saturation. How much, that’s as always a matter of taste. If conditions are good, not much is needed for the right effect.

On the picture below some buildings can be picked out: from left to right, the Maritime Museum, the Robeco Tower, the former Fortis building and the residential tower Coopvaert, mirrored in the Leuvehaven:

Reflection of the Maritime Museum, the Robeco tower, former Fortis building and residential building De Coopvaert in the waters of Leuvehaven
Reflections in Leuvehaven harbour

The ultimate now

For me, the beauty of these pictures is in the role that chance plays in their creation. In fact, they are the ultimate snapshot: 1/1250 seconds later, everything already looks quite different.

The image below is one of my favorites: the White House and some historical barges reflected in the Old Harbour.

Reflection of the White House and some historic vessels in the water of the Old Harbour in Rotterdam
The White House, reflecting in the Old Harbour

On the wall

Finally, I believe that this wave paintings would do well on a lot of very different walls. I have therefore opened a special room for them in my online gallery:

Further reading: in 2022 I made another series of reflectifications.

Framed print of a photo of the White House in Rotterdam, reflecting in the Old Harbour
Framed print of the White House and the Old Harbour

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