How to create a reflection in water with Photoshop.
The curse of the conceptual photographer is that you always want to include some kind of magical element in your photo even when it doesn’t necessarily need one. Knowing how to create a reflection is a good little bow to add to your quiver of tricks. It’s also useful when creating car or product shots for advertising purposes or for landscape photographers wanting to embellish a scene.
You can add a reflection to most scenes but unless you’ve photographed your subject straight on you *may* have trouble with perspective so just keep that in mind.
How to create a reflection in Photoshop
- Duplicate your image layer (Ctrl/Cmd J).
- Next you’ll need to add space to the bottom of your canvas to put the reflection. There’s a few ways to do this but I prefer the lazy option which is to activate the crop tool (c) and drag the bottom and edges out to reveal the checkerboard. This doesn’t have to be exact because we can crop it back in later.
- Highlight the top copy of your image and go to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and then hold down shift and drag that layer into place below your main image. Recrop your image (c) by dragging the handles back to the sides.
- If you’re using this method to reflect an object rather than an entire scene you can use a gradient on a layer mask to make the reflection gradually fade out. You can see what I mean in the image below. The layer marked in red shows the gradient applied to the mask.
- This step isn’t crucial but I wanted to distort my reflection a bit to give the illusion of water movement so, select the reflection layer and make it a smart object by going to Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. Then choose Filter>Distort>Wave and play around with the sliders to taste but you probably don’t want to add too much. Being a smart object you can go in and change the filter until you’re happy.
- Now we’ll add some ripples which gets a little tricky but builds on techniques I’ve covered in the last few weeks. I mostly followed along with this tutorial to get the following steps but I simplified a few things on the way. Create a new layer and Edit>Fill with white. Then choose Filter>Noise>Add Noise, set the amount to 70% and choose Gaussian and Monochromatic. Press OK.
- Add a little blur to the noise with Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and choose 5 pixels as the radius.
- Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves and drag in your sliders as shown to the ends of the histogram spike. This gives more contrast to the noise because while noise is great for these sorts of techniques it’s far too fine and dense without some adjusting.
- Now we need to visit the Filter Gallery which you can only access in 8 bit so if you’re working on a 16 bit image you’ll need to convert to 8 bit by going to Image>Mode>8 Bits/Channel.
- Choose Filter>Filter Gallery>Sketch>Bas Relief. Set both Details and Smoothness to 2. Press OK.
- Apply a motion blur with Filter>Blur>Motion Blur. Make sure the angle is 0 and the distance is 35.
- Press Ctrl/Cmd T to transform the size of the noise. Drag the top handle down to cover only the area of the reflection. Right click the image and choose Perspective and drag the bottom handles out to make the ripples larger towards the bottom. Press enter.
- Right click on the noise layer in the layer’s palette, choose duplicate layer and in the dialogue box change Document to New. Press OK.
- To get rid of the empty space in the new document go to Image>Trim, select Transparent Pixels and hit OK. Save this document as a PSD.
- Back in your main document switch off the noise layer we were working with earlier. Highlight the reflection layer and go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Distort>Glass. You’ll see a little box on the far right where it says ‘Texture’. Click this, choose ‘Load Texture’ and then choose the PSD we saved in the last step. Play around with the Distort slider to give more or less of the effect. As you previously made this layer a smart object you can go back in and change the sliders if needed.
- A cool tip from the aforementioned tutorial is to turn back on the noise layer we created earlier. Change the blend mode to soft light and drop the opacity way down to give the water a glassy reflective look. I also clipped a levels layer to this layer and dulled the whites to make them less severe.
- The last step is optional but I studied a bunch of different images of reflections to see how they should look. I decided to desaturate the reflection a touch, add some bluish toning with a curves adjustment layer and applied some Gaussian blur. I made it slightly brighter and slightly less contrasty and I darkened the area where the water and land meet. Here’s a close up of the result.
And that, dear readers, is how you make a watery reflection!
About ‘The Return of the Sword’
Because I am a conceptual photographer and therefore cursed with needing to include a magical element in all my photos I decided to be a bit tricky and change my reflection slightly. The scene is composed of a photo I took at Palatine Hill in Rome and two pictures of me shot in my backyard. The sword is courtesy of FantasyStock on DeviantArt. I’m really taken with the idea of a normal person suddenly finding out they are special or chosen (as all the best characters are) and that’s how the idea came about.
I created the reflection of the background first and then, because the girl had been cut out from her background, I created her reflection separately. I copied the bottom of her dress exactly and then changed the top half to the girl holding the sword. (I used a stand-in wooden sword when posing which I changed to the stock sword in Photoshop).
After much colour toning I needed to draw the eye first to the top girl which I did by making her the sharpest and most saturated thing in the image. Then down to her reflection by making the sword glow and brightening the bottom of the image because the eye is drawn to light. I applied all the effects covered above to the water but I masked most of them off the reflected girl so she could still be clearly seen.
But will she choose to take the sword?