I'm doing a raytracing exercise. I have a vector representing the normal of a surface at an intersection point, and a vector of the ray to the surface. How can I determine what the reflection will be?

In the below image, I have d and n. How can I get r?

Vector d is the ray; n is the normal; t is the refraction; r is the reflection



$$r = d - 2 (d \cdot n) n$$

where $d \cdot n$ is the dot product, and $n$ must be normalized.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And if my d happens to be pointing the other direction, I need to negate it first, right? $\endgroup$ – Nick Heiner Dec 6 '10 at 18:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user2755 Yes, but you can test this yourself with pencil and paper using simple cases, e.g. $d = [1,-1]; n=[0,1]$ (incoming down and to the right onto a ground plane facing upwards). With this, $r = [1,-1] - 2 \times (-1) \times [0,1] = [1,-1] + 2 \times [0,1] = [1,-1] + [0,2] = [1,1]$. $\endgroup$ – Phrogz Dec 6 '10 at 18:06

Let $\hat{n} = {n \over \|n\|}$. Then $\hat{n}$ is the vector of magnitude one in the same direction as $n$. The projection of $d$ in the $n$ direction is given by $\mathrm{proj}_{n}d = (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}$, and the projection of $d$ in the orthogonal direction is therefore given by $d - (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}$. Thus we have $$d = (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n} + [d - (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}]$$ Note that $r$ has $-1$ times the projection onto $n$ that $d$ has onto $n$, while the orthogonal projection of $r$ onto $n$ is equal to the orthogonal projection of $d$ onto $n$, therefore $$r = -(d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n} + [d - (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}]$$ Alternatively you may look at it as that $-r$ has the same projection onto $n$ that $d$ has onto $n$, with its orthogonal projection given by $-1$ times that of $d$. $$-r = (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n} - [d - (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}]$$ The later equation is exactly $$r = -(d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n} + [d - (d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}]$$

Hence one can get $r$ from $d$ via $$r = d - 2(d \cdot \hat{n})\hat{n}$$ Stated in terms of $n$ itself, this becomes $$r = d - {2 d \cdot n\over \|n\|^2}n$$

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Does this hold for vectors of any dimension? 2D, 3D, 4D, etc? $\endgroup$ – NightElfik Sep 17 '16 at 19:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @NightElfik Abosolutely $\endgroup$ – felknight Feb 26 '17 at 9:10

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.