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6 Rules for Realistic Reflections in Photoshop

Rule #5 – Cars don’t float. And they have underneathy-bits.

Photoshop Reflection Bloopers
Even if we look at a car straight on, its reflection will not look like this:

Floating car
Floating car

Why is that front wheel floating up? Is it really a flying car like we heard we’re supposed to get in the future? And is it as thin as cardboard? It has no underside.

One more thing. I can’t help it. There’s no way there would be such a dark, heavy shadow under a car which was parked on a shiny surface. Light would be bouncing everywhere, including under the car.


Reflection Reality
Okay, I couldn’t drive my car onto a mirror. Here’s the best I could do.

Photo of toy wagon
Photo of toy wagon

Notice that the wheels touch their reflections. We can see the underside of the wagon in the reflection. We can also partially see the undersides of the wheels. There’s only a hint of shadow underneath, even when I don’t use a flash:
Minimal shadow under wagon
Minimal shadow under wagon

Notice this too: the wagon’s surface is shiny like a car’s. Because of this, the wagon’s surface reflects back some of the reflection too. Crazy, huh? Shiny things don’t live in a vacuum.


Reflection Realism in Photoshop
The only way to get true realism in a car with a reflection is to take a picture of it sitting on a shiny surface. Barring that, try this to get close:

  1. Try to get a photo of the car’s undercarriage to use in the reflection. If you use a photo from another car, perhaps no-one will notice the difference (but don’t count on it.)
  2. If you can’t obtain a realistic underside, at least account for the depth of the car by making a dark area where the undersides would be.
  3. Fake it where we would see the undersides of the tires.
  4. Avoid strong shadows. A darkish floor is okay though.
  5. Indicate some reflections of the reflection back onto the car’s shiny surfaces.

For inspiration, here is a real photo of a car photographed on a shiny surface (polished concrete):

Photo of car with reflection
Photo of car with reflection

Here is a tutorial that does a nice job of showing you one way to deal with a car reflection in Photoshop: Create a Stunning Car Showroom Brochure from Spoon Graphics


Next: Rule #6 – Round and cylindrical objects need special handling.

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 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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