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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.