Light on Water, a Forensic and Sketching Study

Was walking along the Marina the other day photographing and sketching things.

Scene of Light

I stopped to consider it all for minute and then I got very confused. and excited.

In the scene above there is sunlight, reflections, shadows and at least 3 different wave patterns in the water. Additionally there’s clearly debris and chemicals in the water. Put all this together and you get a very confusing and dynamic scene of light.

When you are trying to sketch or paint something you often are just rendering the blocks of color/light which is a fairly straightforward copying process if the scene / forms are simple enough. The scene I was looking at was moving rapidly and chaotically and the forms are almost impossibly complex. The only way to get a decent sketch is to actually know the physics of the situation and be able to build the image from first principles. Where is the light coming from? how are the surfaces moving? what are the surfaces made of? what direction in reality and in the visual plane is everything going? and so on.

I captured several photos, a couple of videos and some slo motion video to aid my forensic investigation. Our phones nowadays are insane forensic tools. That we can do slo-motion hi-def video really allows us to do high end physics with almost no effort.

Setting the Scene

First things first I just wanted to understand the basic set up. There were three “barriers” the waves were bouncing off of — two sides of the marina wall and the docks. Well, and of course a bunch of boats etc etc. The light source was just the sun and any reflected light from the boat surfaces and dock sides. Shadows were cast from the boats and the walls and surfaces. There appeared to be oil or some other shiny chemical in parts of the water as well.

The scene occured at 1:40pm on October 4, 2018 in Marina Del Rey, CA.

The light was only slightly off from overhead from the SSW direction.

I was positioned outside the Marina Del Rey library, somewhat NNE of the position of the light source (sun).

The light was be pretty bright and mainly hit the top of any waveforms. Cast shadows were relatively short. So clearly there was going to be bright, point spots and pretty small dark spots in the troughs of the waves and relatively minor cast shadows from the waves themselves.

This gave me a scene that could be analyzed in a particle kind of way. I hoped.

The Simulation

Next I wanted to understand all the sources of the surface topology. There’s just the single source of waves from the current in the marina. But there’s effectively several walls creating secondary waves etc.

We can simulate the set up to understand the surface patterns.

This is the base topology. It was further complexified by the “brownian” like motion of the boats etc, which introduce some randomness to this regular wave pattern.