Attractive reflections can be challenging to capture naturally in your photographs. Sometimes it’s easier to create reflections in Photoshop. You will have more control over how the photo looks and you can avoid the difficulties that photographing reflections can bring.
Often you can’t find just the right place to stand to catch the best reflection. Sometimes the light is wrong and a natural reflection will look too dark. Choosing to make reflections in Photoshop gives you much more flexibility to get the look you want.
It’s really not that difficult to do. In this article, I’ll walk you through a series of steps you can use to make a mirror image in Photoshop.
Step 1: Selecting your photo
When making reflections in Photoshop, it’s important to start out by choosing a photo that’s suitable. Not every photo will look good or natural when you make a mirror image of it.
When you’re looking for a photo to use with this technique, think about how it will look. You ideally want to use a photo where the main subject has a distinct line along where the reflection will appear.
Open your photo in Photoshop. You may need to crop the bottom of the photo to create a clean line where the reflection can be placed.
Step 2: Adjust the canvas size
You need to adjust the canvas size to make room for the reflection you will create.
Go to the top menu and select Image->Canvas Size. In the pop-up that appears in the box next to the Height option, click the drop-down and choose Percent. Make the Height percentage 200.
Click the top center of the Anchor options grid. This will force the new canvas space you are creating to appear underneath your photo.
Step 3: Duplicate the layer
In the Layers panel, unlock the base layer. To do this, click on the padlock icon. Now you can duplicate this layer by going to the top menu and selecting Layer->New->Layer Via Copy.
Convert both the layers to Smart Objects by right-clicking on each of them and selecting Convert To Smart Object. Now rename both layers to make it easier to keep track of which one is which.
Step 4: Position the new layer
Drag the new layer to the space you created under your main image.
Now you need to flip the lower layer. This will be your reflection. From the top menu select Edit->Transform->Flip Vertical and press Enter.
Step 5: Add blur to the reflection layer
With your reflection layer selected, from the top menu select Filter->Blur->Motion Blur. Set the Angle to 90-degrees and use the Distance slider to add a suitable amount of blur. How much you add is up to you and will vary depending on the resolution of the photo you are working with. In my example, I have set it to 30.
You may need to reposition your reflection layer by nudging it up slightly if a gap has appeared between your two layers.
Step 6: Make a new file
Duplicate your file by going to the top menu and selecting Image->Duplicate. Crop the image so you are left only with the reflection.
Delete one layer so you are left with a blank canvas. Resize the canvas to 30%, otherwise, it will be too big to manage easily. Select the paint bucket and fill the image with black.
This file you have created will be added to the reflection layer to make it look more realistic like water.
Step 7: Add blur and noise for texture
From the top menu select Filter->Noise->Add Noise. Make the amount 350% and check the boxes Uniform and Monochromatic. Click OK.
Now add some blur. Select Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur from the top menu and set the Radius to 1.5 pixels and click OK.
Step 8: Emboss your texture
In the Channels panel click on the Red channel.
Next, go to the top menu again and select Filter->Stylize->Emboss. Set the Angle to 90, the Height to 5, and the Amount to 500. Of course, you can experiment with any of these amounts. Click OK.
Now select the Green channel and Filter->Stylize->Emboss from the top menu. Set the Angle to 0, the Height to 5, and the Amount to 500. Click OK.
Turn on all the channels by clicking RGB. Go back to your Layers Panel, right-click the layer and Convert To Smart Object.
Step 9: Stretch the perspective of the distortion
Select Edit->Free Transform from the top menu. Right-click inside the image and select Perspective. Make sure you are zoomed out a long way so your image is small in the center of your monitor.
Click on one of the bottom corners of the frame and drag it out horizontally. This will stretch and distort the lower part of the texture. Don’t worry if it looks weird, once you incorporate it into your reflection it will make it look more natural.
Zoom back to 100%. Save this image as a .PSD where you can find it easily and name it something recognizable.
Step 10: Make an adjustment layer on your main image
Click on the reflection layer on your main image and duplicate it by pressing Ctrl (Cmd)+j on your keyboard. Name it “Reflection Copy.” With the new layer selected (which should be above the other reflection layer), from the top menu, choose Filter->Distort->Displace. Set the vertical and horizontal scales to about 10.
You may need to alter these if it does not look good, depending on your image size and resolution. Click OK.
From the window that opens, find and select the distortion image you just created and saved. This will use the texture image as a displacement layer. If the ripple effect is too large or too small, undo that step. Redo the step again, but this time choose a higher or lower number for the displacement scale.
Experiment with this until you are satisfied with the way it looks. It’s entirely up to your taste.
Step 11: Adjust the reflection
With your Reflection Copy layer selected, click on the layer mask icon, which is at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Select the Brush tool with the color set to Black and a large brush size and Hardness of 0%.
From the options panel above your image, set the brush opacity to 20%. Select your layer mask, not the main reflection layer. Paint from side to side over the top half of your reflection layer, where it meets the top layer until it looks natural.
What you are doing is erasing 20% of the distortion each time you paint. You want to make the reflection look smoother in what appears to be the distance.
Step 12: Merge the reflection layers
Select both the reflection layers in the Layers Panel. Right-click on one of them and select Merge Layers. Make sure your main image is not selected. You should now have one reflection layer and your main layer.
Step 13: Darken the reflection
With the reflection layer selected, go to your top menu and choose Image->Adjustments->Curves. Click in the middle of the curves adjustment line and drag it down to darken the reflection. Adjust it until it looks natural. A reflection in water is typically darker than the scene it’s reflecting.
Follow through these steps a few times and experiment with the variables. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Your personal preference and the photos you choose will determine the outcome.
You will find reflections in Photoshop look better on some images than on others.
Try out this technique for making reflections in Photoshop, and share your images with us in the comments below!