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By on February 7, 2010, with 78 Comments

I received this peculiar photo back in January, which was sent to me by one of our fans. With your help, together we can solve the mystery behind it. What is so strange about it, you might ask. Well, some of you may see it as an ordinary photo, of what seems to be a simple column wall, surrounded by rippling water floating behind it. But many may see the columns differently. Some of my colleagues argued that the columns are themselves immersed in water, and that lower part of the column-wall is actually just a reflection on a fluid surface. What is it then? Few of you may even guess that the reflection is in fact part of the wall that can be seen through water surface. However, this solution is unacceptable for many reasons, but just to name one – simple physics shows us that water bends light, so if we were seeing what is below the surface, it would be bent in a way similar to this one.  Lets discuss this!

Ocean Ripple Optical Illusion


78 Responses
  1. Kairho says:

    We are seeing the entire column, not a reflection of the top part. Hints include: sunlight on the lower base only, a joint only on the lower base, the lower part of the column is not rippled. And, most obvious, the cross section of the top rail and the base are different.


    • majd5656 says:

      it might not be all one because i cant see it in a way that there is a floor under the bottom, i think a mirror floor is between them

  2. Facebook User says:

    The columns are not in the water. We see water trough the wall. There is no reflection. But nice illusion, I had to think about it because I red your comment first.

  3. erik says:

    this is not true because if you look at the to of te colums you can see black corosion and if you look at the bottom it doesn’t have that so therefor it can’t be a reflection and it is merley what it looks like it is!

  4. Shruikan says:

    At first glance I thought it was a reflection as well. But that just didn’t work, after thinking about that and staring at it longer I realized it was just a wall. :D

  5. egdirbr says:

    I think the eyes of the regulars are too well trained to be fooled by this one. The first few comments already nailed it.

    It’s almost confusing to present it as an illusion, since then we look harder to find out that the way we saw it in the first place was accurate.

  6. i believe that its a solid wall with the water behind it. only because the light shining on the front of the columned wall is not similar to the water right near it. it seems like the sun is a big factor in the illusions integrity

  7. ltyson says:

    i think that the bottom columns are a reflection of the top ones not the best illusion but its alright i suppose lol

  8. Digit says:

    the water is rippled … so the reflection would be also …

  9. Hanna says:

    Have none of you traveled anywhere??

  10. joe B says:

    no ripple, it’s a full column. Nice pic though

  11. Stuart says:

    I think that this image is upside down. Reason, dirt tends to collect on the lower part of these things, not the top part, as that is sort of protected. The bottom is not, so turn it upside down and lets see what you think.

  12. Carlos says:

    Obviously no reflection: please look at the water surface, it is not flat as a mirror – any reflection would be seen distorted by the waves

  13. Ace says:

    Maybe I’m missing something… its a picture of a stone fence with water in the background. Maybe I should send in a picture of my family at the beach as a submission. Ooooh – see how the water behind the people reflects the sun? Magic!

    Sarcasm aside – either this is the worst optical illusion posted on this, or one of the best. I see a stone fence/wall in front of water. No more no less.

  14. Reader says:

    I agree with egdirbr. I kept looking trying to find what was so special, but really – there is nothing special to find. It is a nice photo and it does create kind of an illusion, but it is definitely not up for an examination – it takes less than a sec to see that there is no reflection.

  15. Sean says:

    if you look at the pillar on the far right and try and look at where the two halves meet, it is clear that the middle is not immersed in water.

    great illusion, my perspective changed completely after analyzing it.

  16. Peter Gorham says:

    Even though I know what this is, I still keep seeing the bottom part of the column as a reflection, and then have to remind myself that’s not possible since there is no rippling. It hurts my eyes!

  17. 42 says:

    The rightmost column is on the top, dark. Its “reflection” is apparently not affected by this, as it is lighted.

  18. Diana says:

    This has to be a whole wall, otherwise the reflection of pillars would be rippled just like the water.

  19. Wodgev says:

    I thought the vases that appear in the gaps of the column were the illusion, but I also thought it was a reflection at first. It’s still very peculiar to look at…

  20. Colin says:

    Part of what fools us into thinking it is a reflection is the dark and light image crossing the water at approximately the height of the middle of the column.
    A straight forward picture that gives the illusion of an illusion – I like it

  21. brad says:

    what egdirbr said :)

  22. Nobody says:

    it’s a beautiful picture.
    before i scrolled down and the bottom part of the stone railing was in view, it looked like the columns were reflected in water. once i scrolled all the way down and the top and bottom parts of the railing were in my view, it just looked like a picture of a stone railing overlooking the water.

  23. Katie says:

    Very cool picture. When I first glanced at it on my widget it looked like a reflection. But when I saw the whole picture close up the columns are obviously overlooking the water.

  24. Joel says:

    i see what you mean, but the water would need to be calm for this to be a little realistic

  25. vanhayley says:

    I think because, I can see the water is moving but that means the reflect of the columns have to move too, but is not moving.

  26. Josh says:

    Water doesn’t bend light it just slows it down. and also this is blatantly not an illusion.

  27. Pel Evanstar says:

    I think everyone is missing the obvious. Yes, the columns are not identical from top to bottom and that gives it away. *But* the more obvious thing to give it away is that the bottom columns are experiencing no rippling! If it was just a reflection, then the rippled water surely would ripple the reflected columns. Good illusion, though.

  28. Ena says:

    It is sooo obviously not a reflection, if it is, then the water/reflection would be rippled just like the water surrounding it. However, it is a pretty cool illusion.

  29. Ena says:

    Aparrently my conclusion has already been mentioned, you can just ignore it then…

  30. Ron says:

    Just looks like a straight forward photograph to me!

  31. noone says:

    and another “no optical illusion at all” photo.

  32. Loza says:

    cool illusion! You have to really look hard to decide whether or not there’s a reflection.
    But erik’s right – there is black stuff on the top and not the bottom, so it can’t be a reflection

  33. NeeL says:

    In the widget I thought I looked at some plates of aluminum foil. Well for a split second at least. :)
    Never saw the reflection illusion by the way.

  34. Josh says:

    To be honest, looking at the reflection of the sunlight gives it away. I was totally fooled by it until I looked at the light…

  35. John says:

    nice illusion however the underside of the top rail does not match the so called reflected side.

  36. doogy says:

    The columns are in shade. the surface below is in full sunlight. This causes the columns to be bottom lit from the reflected sun. This is a key factor to tricking the eyes.

  37. Janelle McDermott says:

    I know it’s a column, but it still plays tricks on my eyes. I like it!!!!!

  38. Justice193 says:

    that dirt near the top is corrosion, from where water poured down it on rainy days Stuart, which probably explains the ring like shadows at the bottom… they probably aren’t shadows :P, more corrosion at work there :D.

    Putting aside the part of my brain that wants to point out that it is neither distorted by the light or the waves, I covered most of the bottom half of the image with my hands, and it does look pretty cool when you do that, all the image needs is a quick trimming at the bottom and then you could easily pass off the question “is this a reflection, or the rest of the columns?”.

    This, people, is the ultimate in optical illusions; not the illusion itself, but the birth of one :).

  39. So many Sherlock Holmes in here! Everyone knows it is not reflected you don’t have to brag about your discovery.

  40. If it were a reflection then there would be ripples distorting the lower reflection simply because there are ripples in the water.

  41. Umm says:

    the shadow designs are different on the top and bottom

  42. Stephanie Brynn Perkins says:

    Okay so I think it is just a wall with columns because if it were a true reflection wouldn’t the reflection of the columns have the same dark spots around the top as the ones “in the water”? And if it were a reflection wouldn’t the reflection have ripples just as the water does?

  43. Justice193 says:

    apparently everyone that comments on this scrolls past everyone else comments, in fear of spoiling the illusion on themselves, without thinking to check weather people posted the exact same comment or not David :P.

  44. Alfie says:

    maybe the railings are a 2D image made to look 3D? If not, someone should make that image…would be cool.

  45. Gavin McLaughlin says:

    This photo seems to have been tampered with, the person wanted people to think that half of the column was under water but upon close inspection a divide is clearly visible between columns 1 and 2 from the left hand side. Photoshop is my guess.

  46. the illusionist says:

    look at the shadowing of the columns

  47. emil says:

    @kairho: You’re right about the other things but i doubt the cross sections are different, if i understand you correctly

  48. Bob Vernon says:

    It is obvious to the rational mind that there is no reflection. What induces the unconscious mind to doubt the rational interpretation, however, is – as Colin was the first to point out above – the dark band reflected on the water halfway up and behind the columns which looks almost as though it could be the reflection of the underside of the top rail of the wall. I bet that without that reflection the illusion wouldn’t work.

  49. Nimesh says:

    It’s the complete column that we are looking at
    the lower part is clearn whereas the upper part is dirty
    the sunlight is only on th lower part

    and is the lower part was a reflection in water, it must also be distorted like the water waves

  50. Andy says:

    Sorry, but this is just a horrible “illusion”. And while water bends light, it only does so depending on the angle which we view the water, and at this angle it’s just reflecting light off of the surface.

  51. Aaron Majewski says:

    Ther is no reflection, if it did, the bottom piece would have a ripple-like effect to it. So therefore, it is most-likely AN OLD BRIDGE NEAR SOME WATER

  52. Lyn says:

    Water never spends much time at the same level… Any concrete that has been touching water for more than a few minutes… would be wet. Nice try.

  53. Daz says:

    Its just pillars by water, ripples displace light too.

    But what makes you say it cant be posts under the water as it bends light? As you know, impossible shapes have been created by replicating the bends/perception in the opposite way :)

    Daz x x

  54. Duh says:

    Umm…the rail at the bottom of the photo is in direct sunlight, the underside of the top rail is shaded.

  55. TfR says:

    Bottom rail has a seam (bottom left corner) — the top rail does not.

  56. Mark Bowen says:

    I reckon this is a total trick of the mind. Imagine the water isn’t there. This would then just be a wall with holes in it. Now the water indeed is there and the darker patch of water and the angle of the photo tricks us into seeing things that aren’t there.


  57. Angeliqa says:

    If you don’t look directly at the picture, look from the corner of your eye, its a pretty good illusion.

  58. Shisno420 says:

    In the bottom right corner there is sunlight, but in the top right there is no sunlight. Therefore, it is just a couple of old concrete collomns near some water

  59. head in the shed says:

    Its just a photo of some columns in front of water!

  60. Ryan says:

    I believe the cement structure is a guardrail next to a body of water, there is a bridge or other structure that goes over the body of water in the background creating a shaddow on the water, where the photographer has don a good job linning up the shaddow with the center of the spindles in the rail.
    Great photo. See photos of Bayshore blvd in Tampa FL near Tampa General Hospital…

  61. Ryan has got it right, but I don’t think the photographer did a good job lining up the columns. But that might be the engineer in me speaking. And again,there is direct sunlight on the ridge on the bottom, but the top would be in the shade.

  62. Alma says:

    There nothing immerse into water. It’s just a wall of columns . Water is down there, very far of the columns. Nothing’s strange on this photo. Not for me, at least.

  63. Carlos says:

    umm those pillars are in front of the water O_o

  64. Cherry Blossom says:

    It’s not very good i don’t think.

  65. Eric says:

    I see a row of columns (small)that are reflected off the surface of the water, giving an illusion of bigger ones, and a bigger view of water. Nice illusion. I like these illusions, because it helps to train the eye (and brain) to see what is in our frame of reference.

  66. michael says:

    i think it is how the bottom of the columns is light but the columns are very dark that’s probaly the illusion

  67. Goran says:

    it’s one column that has a little fat ring in the middle.

  68. pop says:

    what dont get it its a bridge not the reflextion on the water

  69. Sander says:

    There’s actually some reflection from the sun in the water on the underside of the pillarbars which can be seen in the “reflection” around the reflected pillars.Also, the whole lower section (reflection) has got a ripple-effect if you lok closely and compare them to the upper ones.

  70. David says:

    Notice how the columns and ripples have no interactions?

    Look at the column on the right. Chip on bottom, no chip on top.

    Notice the discoloration on the top of every column, but no discoloration on the bottom of the column.

    I’d say if there is an illusion it is a seemingly reverse parallax.

  71. David says:

    The actual illusion is that for a brief moment when you first see it, you might see columns where the water is.

  72. nbameless says:

    reflections are total copies of real objects and images, including sunlight, look at the sunlight on the picture, the upper part is overshadowed, but the lower part has light

    the absence of ripples is pretty obvious and it gives up the image : )
    also, if it was a reflection, the rings on the columns would be doubled

  73. YourFrigginMom[= says:

    I see that this is a column immersed in water.
    I came to a conclusion that it wasn’t, for the fact that it looks so simple- and also figured that i would see some rippling in the ‘reflection’. Soon enough, I cam to an astonishing realization that there was very few displacements in the reflections, or shall I say ‘wiggly lines’, that do not appear int the actual, seemingly flawlessly smooth columns.

  74. Speedy says:

    It took some time to notice it was in front of the water. In case you don’t see that it is in front of the water, just squint your eyes.

  75. Ciel says:

    Uhm to be honest did any of you look to the right and at the bottom …the pillar is chipped so it can’t be a reflection….

  76. Rebecca says:

    There is no “bottom rail” or “top rail”. It’s all just one pillar. The water is actually behind the rail. The sun is also hitting the bottom of the rail and seems as if it would also be hitting the top, but that part has been cut off from the photo (to help confuse the image). It’s the design of the rail that really throws everyone off.

  77. rodzki says:

    no illusion… DONE.. wtf

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