Abstracting reality: distorted reflections

Distorted reflections are a great way to create abstract photographs. Reflections on water surfaces are by far the most useful for this type of abstractions, and are the basis of most of these types of abstracts in Hennie Schaper's photography.

In his own words: "There are a few things one needs to take into account. First of all, one has to encounter the right conditions. The water surface should not be too calm (which leads to insufficient distortion of the primary image), nor too wild (which leads to insufficient reflection). Secondly, there should be something of interest to reflect, sometimes shapes, but mostly colours. This can range from buildings, to sunscreens, to parked cars, to graffiti, and so on. Thirdly, unlike any other type of abstract photography, one will be dealing with an ever changing subject. The movement of the water, whether it is caused by the wind or ducks swimming by, makes for a different scene every single moment. It is crucial to take a series of shots of a promising situation, to be able to pick the best one at home behind the computer. In terms of final processing, it pays of to be bold in pushing the natural colours, and to try different orientations (flipping upside down is an obvious one, but also 90 degrees rotations can be quite effective)."

Here are a number of examples, with his own descriptions (click on the images to see them in his Flickr site).

Liquid colours

A fairly early and very straightforward example from my stream. The colours of a boat reflected in a harbour, without much post-processing. Nowadays I would push further.

October water reflections

I took this shot in our home town of Kampen. The apartments in the building opposite the city canal showed wild reflections on the heavily distorted water surface, with the balustrades providing the diagonal white image, and the sun screens the splashes of orange.

October water reflections 2

The same canal, and very near to the place where I shot the first image - and a totally different result. A more gentle distortion, with a reflected tree, makes for an abstract with impressionist tendencies.


This is a zoomed-in close-up of the reflection in a stagnant body of water of a painting displayed on the outside of a restaurant. To enhance the colour effect, I applied an Orton-like treatment in post-processing.


Autumn colours in a park, reflecting in a canal, are an obvious choice for this subject. I shot this one in London's Regents Park, at a moment when the shapes of the ripples caused an almost psychedelic effect.

Another reflected abstract

The reflection itself is interesting due to the colours of the boat and the shapes caused by the rippling water. Rotating the original image by 90 degrees enhanced the abstract quality.


Stunning reflections of storage buildings  in a water way near the place where I used to work in Amsterdam. The colours are rather subdued, even pastel-like, but the shapes of the reflections are exquisite. I rotated the image 90 degrees to get an abstracted image which resembles van Gogh's style of painting.

November reflections 3

Here is one where I really can't remember what was actually reflected, even though I am fairly sure this is the nearby canal in Kampen. What makes this stand out is the stained glass like effect caused by this particular water movement.

Water reflections gone wild

This one was taken at the same location and time as the fourth example, just a different painting that was reflected. As someone commented: it looks like someone threw a bunch of paint onto the water!


Here we have an example, and one of the few reflections in my stream where the water is actually a river. It was taken at a part of the IJssel where the natural flow is decreased due to the presence of a ship and a buoy, which actually provides the purplish colour. I flipped the shot upside down for a better effect.


Ice can be effective as well. These are reflections of large buildings in Almere in the partially frozen lake. This one works because of the shapes rather than the colours, with the icy reflections adding to the overall feeling. Somewhat reminiscent of the paintings of Richter.

Gems 2017-043

A relatively recent addition to my "distorted reflections" abstracts is what I dubbed "CoolArt": reflections of my wife's colourful paintings in the aluminium surface of a cooling bag. This is one of the better examples.

This is the reflection of a fountain in Hungary, as seen through the splashing water. Shades of Gerhard Richter's abstracts here.

Another rather straightforward reflected abstract, spotted in a canal in nearby Hasselt. The strong yellow makes the shot stand out.

The Kampen canal, in walking distance of our home, always makes for interesting opportunities. Here we have the reflection of electricity coils in the local canal.

Here is an interesting variation on this theme. I took this shot in the Kröller-Müller Museum, with the garden reflecting in the glass surface of an art piece (Opposites of white by Roni Horn).