The website of Photographer Cooper Harvey


What the #$%^ is Refraction?

It’s inevitable that on occasion when I tell people the name of my website www.Refraction I will get a semi blank stare, and then “What is refraction”.  I guess you could say I am a victim of my own making, but at the same time its kinda enjoyable, because it reminds me of what I really like to do.  A fairly solid definition of Refraction is a change in direction of a wave due to a change in its velocity. Most commonly seen when wave passes from one medium to another.  Unfortunately that really isn’t the solid explanation that works for everyone, so I am going to do my best to explain it as it relates to everyday life and photography. 

You can see refraction at work when you poke a stick into clear water; it looks bent at the water surface.  Again looking obliquely through a thick piece of glass or bottle.  The parts of the view through the glass look offset relative to what you can see directly.  Most importantly because of refraction, lenses bend the light and focus it on the tiny CCD chip (or film) that records every picture we take with our cameras. 

Its good to remember that refraction only happens through relatively clear materials.  Diffusely materials like milky plastic, or sand blasted glass will mainly scatter or reflect the light. 

As light travels in a straight direction it will always take the minimum time of flight path through an object.  Thus as light hits the front of a lens head on it continues straight through the lens and doesn’t change direction, but if light comes from any angle as it hits the lens (glass element) the light will bend to travel at a sharper angle as it passes into the glass. Where exactly it lands ends up being the point that has minimum travel time. If you were to consider a plane inside the glass parallel to the surface of the glass and calculate, based on the speed in air and the speed in glass, the time it would take the light from the specified source to hit various points on this plane, you’d find the point it actually hits is the one that has the shortest time of flight. This idea for determining the “why” of refraction originated with the mathematician Fermat, who found that the “principle of least action” applied to many things in physics.

If you want the crazy math of it check out:

If none of that jiberish made much sense and you need a better explanation check out:

So now when you read this definition it should make a lot more sense.  Refraction is a change of direction of a ray of light. Light that is traveling in a straight line alters course – bends – when it strikes light-transmitting substances such as glass or clear plastic at any angle other than perpendicular.  What does Refraction mean from a marketing perspective?  I like to think of myself as a medium that light image) passes through, and I bend it through personal composition.  Refraction photo just stands for my control or manipulation of the light!!!