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Values in Water Reflections

by | Apr 5, 2022 | Art Lessons | 0 comments

Water reflects what is around it. This post focuses on painting the values of those reflections. (“Value” is the light/dark scale.)

Reflections Head to the Middle Values

  • Dark Reflections Get Lighter
  • Light Reflections Get Darker

Now, if you are scratching your head and saying, “Huh??” you are not alone. It seems really weird. Like, why in the world is this not consistent? But, in a way it is. The reflections are going to head to a middle value (just a touch). Because the are losing contrast. 

Reflections of Dark Objects

Let’s use the example of a tree by a lake reflecting in the water. The tree is dark. Now, the tree is blocking the light, and the color of the tree reflection is bouncing off the water, into the viewer’s eye. This is not 100% efficient. Some of the surrounding light gets in. Some of the dark color bounces away. Thus, you see the dark reflection, but it just a touch lighter than the real object.

Diagram of tree reflection

Reflections of Light Objects

Now let’s look at the opposite – a bright object. How about a big, puffy cloud? There is a lot of light reflecting (that is why it is the bright object). However, not 100% of the light from the object bouncing off the water will make it towards your eye, compared to the direct line of the light from the cloud to your eye. 

Sky Reflection Color

The sky reflected off the surface of the water is going to be a slight value different. Mostly, the sky is lighter than the water, and therefore the value of the sky in the water needs to be darker. To mix this color, use the same formula you used to mix the sky color, but add just a tiny bit less white. 

© Kristen O’Neill, Mt. Rainier Reflection, Acrylic on Canvas, 24″ x 18″

In the above painting, noticed how the reflection of the mountain is darker than the mountain itself. Since the mountain was lighter than the mid tone of the painting, the reflection needed to go darker.