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6 Rules for Realistic Reflections in Photoshop

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

Photoshop Reflection Bloopers
This image from Pepsi’s own website has some weird reflections.

Cylinders with bad reflections
Cylinders with bad reflections

Good news, designer. You followed Rule #3 (“Separate items get their own reflections”). Bad news: you need learn a little bit about three-dimensional form. See that curve on the bottom edge of the Pepsi can? The curve in the reflection should go in the same -not opposite – direction. Really. Check it out below.

 

Reflection Reality
Here are three soda cans like in the image above:

Photo of sode cans
Photo of sode cans

When we look at a cylinder like a soda can at a slight angle, we see curves at the top and bottom edges. These are formed from ellipses (ovals,) which is what we get when we turn a circle away from us in space. The ellipse at the bottom of the can would overlap the ellipse in the reflection to a great degree. This results in the front of the ellipse curving up like a smile for both the can and its reflection.

There are some underneathy bits too, because the sides of the can don’t go straight down to the mirror. The metal curves in slightly, revealing some of the structure at the bottom of the can when we view the reflection. On a final note, we see some perspective here too, as the sides of the cans angle in slightly as they go down.

One argument that may occur to you is, what if we are looking at the cylinders straight on, so that we can’t see those ellipses? I’d counter that if that were the case, we would not see any reflection at all. The mirrored surface would be completely perpendicular to our eyes.

 

Reflection Realism in Photoshop
This is another case where it might be best to get the product shot from real objects, including the reflection. Barring that, get at least a photo of the bottom of one can at approximately the right angle. Then blend it into each of the reflections, making sure that the reflections layers are below the object layers in the layer stack.

 

Bonus Guide: Make It Look More Like a Wet Table Than a Mirror

So far we have looked at recreating a mirror image. Let’s tone down the reflection now so that it appears to be sitting on a wet table instead of a mirror. This brings more focus to the object itself, and creates less confusion for the eye.

We’ll start with our image of three phones from page 3.

Three phones with mirror reflections
Three phones with mirror reflections

  1. Select one of the reflection layers. Change the opacity to 40%.
Reduce opacity to 40
Reduce opacity to 40
  1. Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur…
  2. Set the Radius to a size that looks right to your eye. It will depend on the actual dimensions of your image. Don’t make the blur too strong. Click OK.
Gaussian Blur
Gaussian Blur
  1. Filter > Blur > Motion Blur…
  2. Set the angle to zero. Again, set the radius to what looks good to you. Click OK.
Motion Blur
Motion Blur
  1. Do the same with the other two reflections.
Blur the other two reflections
Blur the other two reflections
  1. You can add some color to the background gradient:
    1. Select the background layer. It should be a free-floating layer. Is you see a lock on it, double click the word Background, give the layer a name, and click OK.
    2. Click on the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Select Color Overlay.
    3. Click on the color swatch and pick a new color. I picked a muted blue. Click OK.
    4. Reduce the opacity of the color overlay. I set it to 25%.
Color Overlay
Color Overlay
  1. Click OK.
Final Image with Blur and Color
Final Image with Blur and Color

 

Next: More Reflection Catastrophes

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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