In the late afternoon of February 10, 2008, my friend and I went to a little pond on a field in Bochum, Germany, to take a few landscape photographs. It was a sunny day with a cloudless sky and no wind, so that the sun could be reflected very well from the smooth surface of the pond.
When we went along the pond, our shadows fell upon the water. As the sun was very low – it was about one hour before sunset – our shadows extended over the whole width of the pond, with the heads just beneath a bush positioned on the other side of the pond. Suddenly I noticed two fainter shadows just above the heads of our shadows, moving over the bush. When we stopped, these additional shadows appeared only as two faint stripes extending upwards across the bush from the heads of our shadows, as it can be seen in the wide-angle picture.
But when we moved, the phenomenon became quite obvious. So I did not only take a few photographs, but also made a short video with my digital camera. The video can be watched here.
What caused these additional shadows? First I thought that they were just the reflections of our shadows on the water, but when I later thought about my observation, I realized that it was a little bit more complicated:
The sun was shining on the water, and the sunlight was reflected from the smooth water surface. From the other side of the pond there could be seen a reflected picture of the sun in the water. This picture – or, better said – the reflected sunlight fell upon the bush, together of course with the direct sunlight. So the bush received direct light from the sun and also reflected light from the water surface.
When our shadows fell upon the water, the shadowed parts of the water could not reflect any more sunlight, so that the areas above the shadows received only the direct sunlight. So the parts of the bush which did not get the additional reflected light appeared less bright than the rest of it forming two slightly darker stripes extending upward from our shadows. So, what we saw were two secondary shadows, the shadows of our shadows. For a visual explanation of the phenomenon, I also drew a skech of the situation.
Never before I had thought that a shadow could also cast a shadow, and this observation was only possible because it was absolutely calm that afternoon. The slightest wind would have caused ripples on the water and thus blurred those secondary shadows.
Author: Peter Krämer, Bochum, Germany