Le Blog – Serge Mouille Lighting

Light Reflection vs. Light Refraction: What’s the Difference?

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serge mouilleIt is a common mistake for people to mix the two terms up, but they definitely are not the same. From old to modern light fixtures, lighting can be spoken of in terms of beams of light reflecting or refracting. So what is the difference? Let us discuss.

Reflection is when waves (e.g. light or acoustic) bounce off a surface and travel away from it at an angle toward the source of the wave. The perfect and most common example of this is a mirror, which reflects your image. And depending on the surface, the image that you see is not exactly 1:1. In a mirror, even the slightest distortion of imperfection on the surface is enough to change the reflection slightly.

Refraction is when waves actually pass through an object and it is deflected at a different angle than what it entered at. For example, shine a beam of light through water and the light will pass through the surface at a different angle; this holds true even if that body of water is completely still. Mirages and rainbows are examples of light refraction, too.  You can easily test refraction if you fill a glass bowl with water and insert a straw into the water; look at it from the side and you will see the bottom part of the straw at a different angle from the insertion point.

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