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6 Rules for Realistic Reflections in Photoshop

Rule #3 – Separate items get their own reflections.

Photoshop Reflection Bloopers
If you have more than one object you need to reflect, take the time to create a reflection for each object.

The image below appeared in a slide show at the Adobe booth during the NAB Show I went to in April. There are so many things wrong with this image, I hardly know where to begin. I can only hope for Adobe’s sake that this slide show was put together by a business partner and not their own designers.

Three rules broken all at once
Three rules broken all at once

The first and most obvious error is creating a floating monitor and laptop. This happened because the designer simply flipped all three items as one image. This image also breaks Rule #4 – “Items pointing toward you have smaller reflections than you think” (on page 4). It also breaks Rule 5 (“Cars don’t float. And they have underneathy-bits” – page 5) in its own way. Monitors don’t float and they have underneathy-bits too.

Just in case you don’t believe where I found this image, here’s my original photo of the presenter. Notice the “dobe” part of the Adobe logo above and behind her.

Adobe slide show embarrassment
Adobe slide show embarrassment

 

Reflection Reality
Here I have a photo to demonstrate how different objects get their very own reflections. To show that the object is not floating, the reflection needs to begin right under the object.

Three items with reflections
Three items with reflections

Each object’s reflection starts immediately underneath it. Also notice how a circled the underneathy-bits which are visible in reflections if an object isn’t perfectly vertical and flat-bottomed. Even the cell phone shows some of the bottom edge where the corners curve up.

 

Reflection Realism in Photoshop
Read rules 4 and 5 for tips on working with non-linear objects. For flat-surfaced, straight-bottomed objects you can use these guidelines.

  1. Put each object on its own layer.
Each item on its own layer
Each item on its own layer
  1. Create your reflection layers, one for each object. See how on page 1.
  2. If the bottom edge of an object has a curve, put the reflection layer beneath the object layer in the layer stack. Then move the reflection up a couple of pixels.
Move reflection up and behind
Move reflection up and behind
  1. Don’t let reflections appear as overlapping. This can happen when we use gradients on the layer masks. The layers are partially see-through.

Overlapping reflections
Overlapping reflections

That’s what happened in this unfortunate ad (not to mention that the front monitor must be a vampire.)
Overlapping reflections
Overlapping reflections

    To clean up the overlaps:

    1. Press D to set the foreground color to black.
    2. Find the reflection layer for the front object. Ctrl+click (Mac: Cmd+click) on the layer thumbnail for this layer. This will create a selection around the front object’s reflection.
    3. Find the reflection layer for one of the objects behind the front object. Click (not Ctrl+click) on the layer mask thumbnail for this layer.
    4. Press Alt+Backspace (Mac: Opt+Backspace). This will fill the selection with black on the layer mask. It will hide the reflection where it overlaps with the front object’s reflection.
    5. While the selection is still active, click on the layer mask thumbnail for the third object’s reflection. Press Alt+Backspace (Mac: Opt+Backspace) again.

Layer thumbnail and layer mask thumbnail
Layer thumbnail and layer mask thumbnail

Final multi-object reflection
Final multi-object reflection

 

Next: Rule #4 – Items pointing toward you have smaller reflections than you think.

11 replies on “6 Rules for Realistic Reflections in Photoshop”

Know what?!i don’t have formal training in PS..but because of you..i took up all your tutorials….it’s good…like to thank you ma’am…still got lot to learn though

Great article, I was having a heck of a time finding info/tutorials on photoshop reflections. I found quite a few botched reflections on bestbuy.com check out the icons on their category pages, computers for example, some of the reflections look right but a lot are botched.. It looks like they just had so many to do they just rushed their way through.

Lmfao, its sad to see that laws of reflection are not followed while making the reflections. Designers, editors need to learn some physics.

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