The post How to Create a Reflection in Photoshop (6 Easy Steps) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darlene Hildebrandt.

How to quickly create a reflection in Photoshop

Looking to create a realistic-looking reflection in Photoshop? Honestly, while using Photoshop to create a reflection might seem hard at first glance, it really isn’t. You just have to follow a specific set of steps relatively carefully!

In this article, I’m going to explain how I use Photoshop to create reflections. This technique works particularly well on images with open pavement, and it also looks great if your images have some level of HDR processing (which tends to make the pavement look wet already).

Specifically, you’re going to learn how to go from this:


To this:


And you’ll be able to do it in less than 10 minutes.

I recently showed one of my HDR classes how to do this, and they all followed along with me step by step. Some of them were using Photoshop Elements (which works just fine, but the menus and choices look slightly different). Many of my students were also self-proclaimed “Photoshop novices,” and when I asked them if they thought they’d be able to do this when I showed the before-and-after images, most said “No”!

But they all created their reflections successfully, and we were done in less than 10 minutes. (Note that my 10-minute count also included me going super slow to ensure each of the 12 people in the class was on the same page with me. Reading along, I’m going to guess this will take less than 5. Ready? Go!

Creating a reflection in Photoshop: The 6 basic steps

Here are the six easy steps to follow in Photoshop. This is the super condensed version for quick readers and skimmers:

  1. Copy a section of the image.
  2. Paste it as a new layer.
  3. Flip it.
  4. Position it.
  5. Change the layer blend mode.
  6. Mask it.

That’s it! Do you want a few more details? Let’s dive a little deeper into each step:

Step 1: Copy a section of your image

Using the Marquee tool (M is the keyboard shortcut), draw a box around an area of your image that will become the reflection (see my example below).

Make sure you go edge to edge on the sides and get enough of the image vertically. If you grab more than you need, that’s fine; we’ll be moving it around and masking later anyway.

To start, make a selection!

Then copy the selection as a new layer. You can do that in a few ways:

  • You can right-click on the image, and from the menu that pops up, choose Layer Via Copy
  • You can head into the Edit menu, then choose Copy
  • You can use the keyboard shortcut Cmd/Ctrl+C
To copy your selection, you can right-click on the image and choose Layer Via Copy.
Figure #3
Alternatively, you can copy the image using the option in the Edit menu.

Step 2: Paste as a new layer

If you chose the layer-via-copy method from above, you already have the selection pasted as a new layer. If you haven’t already done that, go ahead and paste the selection, either by choosing Edit>Paste or typing the keyboard shortcut Cmd/Ctrl+V.

You’ll end up with something like this:

Figure #5
My example image with the selection pasted in.

Doesn’t look much different, right? Right! Because the new layer is perfectly aligned with the original. But look at your layers in the Layers palette: the new layer is there, and it only includes the selected portion of the image. Now the magic begins!

Step 3: Flip the new layer

Next, select Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical to flip the new layer upside down. You should end up with something funny-looking, like this:

After flipping your new layer, you might not love what you see – but don’t worry! We’ll deal with this in the next step.

Step 4: Position your “reflection” layer

Next, select the Move tool from your tool palette:

Figure #5 move tool
The Move tool looks like a standard cursor, but with the crosshairs on the bottom right.

Then grab the flipped layer and drag it down until the images start to line up where the reflection will begin. In my image, I’m using the edge of the sidewalk in front of the diner. If it doesn’t line up perfectly, don’t worry about it; you can mask any imperfect bits in Step Six.

Now you want to have something that looks like my example below. The reflection should be roughly in the right position. Just make sure you don’t move the selected area side to side – it should only go down. Otherwise, you’ll have gaps on the edges of your reflection.

Note: Once you’ve selected the Move Tool, you can use the up and down arrows on your keyboard to move the layer up and down. This works great for smaller adjustments when you get it close to position.

Figure #6
Position the layer to get it like this.

Step 5: Change the blend mode

In your Layers palette, change the layer blend mode to one of the options in the Lighten section.

You will find the layer blend modes near the top of your Layers panel, next to the Opacity slider. (By default, the blend mode is set to Normal.)

The Lighten blend modes are perfect for creating realistic reflections.

The Lighten modes are the ones in the third section, and they include: Lighten, Screen, Color Dodge, Linear Dodge, and Lighter Color.

Note that layer blend modes change how the selected layer interacts with the one below it (i.e., the original image). By selecting one of the Lighten blend modes, only the areas of the top layer that are lighter than the one below it will be visible, and any areas darker will not appear.

For reflections, I usually choose Lighten or Screen, though it depends on the image. Try them all and choose the one that looks best for your image. For this example, I applied the Screen blend mode, which gives me something that looks a little closer to a real reflection:

Figure #
Thanks to the Screen blend mode, I’m getting closer to a realistic reflection!

Are you still with me?  Do you have something reasonably similar? If so, it’s time for the final step:

Step 6: Mask the image

We’re almost done, and your reflection should be looking pretty good. But in my image, the neon sign in the reflection is too bright. It doesn’t look natural because reflections are usually darker than the original – so we’re going to tone it down using a mask and the Gradient tool.

First, make a layer mask by clicking on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of your Layers palette:

Click this icon to add a layer mask.

Next, select the Gradient tool from your tools panel. The keyboard shortcut is G, but make sure you get the gradient tool and not the paint bucket:

Figure #11 gradient tool
The Gradient tool and the Paint Bucket tool may be hidden under the G shortcut!

Hit the D key on your keyboard to set your foreground and background color to their default values, then hit X to switch them. Make sure you see black as your foreground color and white as your background color:

Your background color should be white and your foreground color should be black.

Once you have your colors set to black and white, and your gradient tool selected and ready for use, make sure you have the layer mask selected, not the layer. (You can tell because the active element should have a white bracket around it.) If your layer thumbnail is selected instead of the mask, just click on the white layer mask thumbnail. Again, we need to make sure we are doing this on the mask, not the layer.

Here’s how masks work: anything in white on the mask reveals the contents of the masked layer, and anything in black on the mask hides that area of the layer (and reveals the contents of the layer below).

We want to hide the outer edges of our “reflected” layer so it fades out gradually toward the bottom of the image and looks more natural.

Note that the Gradient tool paints from the foreground color to the background color by default, fading from one to the other depending on how we create the gradient. Sometimes it takes a little experimenting to get it just right, but you can always use the handy Cmd/Ctrl+Z shortcut on your keyboard, and Photoshop will undo what you just applied.

(Note: Undo is your best friend in Photoshop! Even if you learn no other keyboard shortcuts, memorize that one!)

To apply the mask to your reflection, place your cursor in the middle of the image, near the bottom.

Note: Holding the Shift key down will keep the gradient from applying at an angle; it will just go straight up.

Click and drag the tool up (you’ll see a line drawing the gradient spread), and let go when you get near the top of your reflection. If it’s not exactly how you want it, you may have to try again with the Gradient tool starting farther away from the bottom edge, or drag it up higher, or other variations.

(When applying the Gradient tool to a mask, you don’t actually even need to use the Undo command; if you just apply another gradient on top, it’ll replace the first one. But it’s still good to know how to Undo!)

Here’s the image with my gradient applied to the layer mask. Notice how on the mask (in the Layers palette) it goes from black to white?

Figure #13 gradient applied to mask
I’ve applied my layer mask, so the foreground reflection isn’t quite as visible.

That means it’s hiding the bottom area of the “reflection” layer, which is what we want.

Some optional finishing touches

If you want to do any other masking to show or hide certain areas of the reflection, just use your Brush tool (hit B on your keyboard) at a lowered opacity (10-20%) to paint with black on the mask over areas you want to hide. (You can also paint with white on any areas you want to show, assuming you’ve first painted black in those spots.)

For this image, I painted black over the edges of the diner where I felt it was still a bit too bright. You can also change the opacity of your layer to adjust the intensity of the reflection.

Below, I’ve included my final version. You can see how my mask goes up on the sides of the parking lot a little bit more:

Figure #14
The final image with more precise masking.

If this was your image, you might also choose to paint away a little in the middle of the reflection where the pavement is darkest. That’s the neat thing about photography: it’s all subjective!

It’s really easy to get upset or hurt feelings when someone else says something that we perceive as negative about one of our images. They’re something we put blood, sweat, and tears into, right? Well, my personal opinion is that it is just their opinion, it’s just one person, and you don’t have to agree with them. If they have valid or constructive criticism, you get to decide if you want to take it on board or whether you want to just agree to disagree and move on. Life is too short to worry about pleasing other people.

Do photography for you! If other people like it, then great! If not, oh well! Move along and life goes on.

Now it’s your turn!

So, think you can do this? Give it a try! See if you can create a beautiful reflection using only Photoshop, and then share it in the comments below!

Here is my image to play with in case you don’t have one that will work. It’s 2000 pixels wide, which is big enough to have some fun. Just click this link and save the image that opens in a new tab.

A few trivial things about this image:

  • It was taken in Rochester, NY, USA, when I was in the area and visited Eastman Kodak House. If you’re ever there, do go; it’s worth the trip to see where photography took roots and grew.
  • It is a 5-image HDR, tone-mapped in Photomatix and finished using Lightroom.
  • During the longest exposure of my bracketed series, a kid on a skateboard – carrying a goldfish in a bag! – skated right through the parking lot in front of me. Why didn’t he show up? Because my exposure was 30 seconds long, and since he wasn’t there for more than half the time, he didn’t appear.

Okay – off you go, and let’s see your results! 

The post How to Create a Reflection in Photoshop (6 Easy Steps) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Darlene Hildebrandt.

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