A realistic water reflections photoshop tutorial

In this photopshop tutorial for beginners,  you’ll learn how to make water reflections from scratch, with realistic reflections and ripples.

Here is the before and after photoshop effect. You can see how it will turn out before looking at the actual tutorial.


Before photoshop


After photoshop

There’s nothing too complicated here, but you are expected to have a good grasp of the basics in Photoshop in order to use this tutorial.

Step 1: Making the water reflection

For this photoshop tutorial I’ve used a beautiful photo of Mont Saint Michel in France, as seen from the first image above. You can download the stock photo here: http://freestock.ca/france_g86-mont_saintmichel__hdr_p2172.html

With the photo open in Photoshop, first of all you need to expand the canvas so that you can fit the water. Go to Image>Canvas Size, and double the height of the canvas, extending it downwards.

Next duplicate your photo’s layer and call the duplicate ‘reflection’. Flip it vertically, and place it below the photo layer, so it becomes a mirror image of the original photo.

Now add a new layer below the reflection layer and call it ‘water’. Fill the bottom half of the layer with blue – the colour of your water.

Link the ‘water’ and ‘reflection’ layers together, and give the ‘reflection’ layer a layer mask.

With the layer mask selected, draw a gradient down from the horizon, fading in the colour of the water.

Now right click on the ‘reflection’ thumbnail to select the visible pixels of the layer mask gradient.

Go to Filter>Blur>Motion Blur, and set the Angle to 90 degrees, and the Distance to 10 pixels.

We’re finished with the reflection for now. Next we need to create a Displace map that will be used to simulate ripples in the water.

Step 2: Make water ripples in photoshop

Open a new 1000 x 2000 px RGB Photoshop document.

Go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise, and set the Amount to maximum.

Next go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, and set the Radius to 2 pixels.

Now go to your layers panel and switch to Channels. Click on the Red layer then go to Filter>Stylise>Emboss, and set the Angle to 180 with the Height at 1 and the Amount at maximum.

Do the same again with the Green layer selected, and the Angle set to 90.

Now, back in the layers panel, right click on the background layer and choose Layer from background.

Next we want to stretch the lower part of the image outwards in order to give it the correct perspective.

Go to Edit>Transform>Perspective and pull the bottom corners outwards as far as you can.

When you’ve got it looking like mine, Go to Image>Image Size, and bring the height down to 1000 pixels, making the image square.

You should be left with something not too far off from the image shown below.

Save this as a .psd with maximum compatibility and close it.

Step 3: Applying the Waves Ripples

Back in your original project file, click on the reflection layer thumbnail and make a selection over the lower half of the image, where you want the wave effect to be applied.

Go to Filter>Stylize>Displace, and set the Horizontal Scale to 30, and the vertical scale to 60. Also select Stretch to Fit and Repeat Edge Pixels.

Once you’ve clicked OK the effect will be applied, and should look like the image below. You may have to go back and adjust Scale of the Displace filter if needed.

Step 4: Final touches to create realistic water reflections

To finish off, we’ll make some small adjustments to the image as a whole. First we’ll darken the area where the water meets the land.

Add a new layer, and make a narrow selection along the horizon. Go to Edit>Fill and choose to fill with black.

Deselect it, then Gaussian blur the black strip at 20 pixels.

Change the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light, and take it’s Opacity down to 80%.

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, and take the Saturation down to -30.

Add a Black and White adjustment layer using the Green filter preset. Set the layer’s blending mode to Overlay, and it’s Opacity to 30%.

And finally, add a Gradient adjustment layer using a transparent to black gradient set to Radial, with the Scale at 150%. Set the blending mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 30%.

The Final Outcome

Hope you enjoy this beginner’s photoshop tutorial on how to create realistic water reflections. For similar articles, you might want to check how to blur background in photoshop and how to change hair color in photoshop.

Matt is a freelance graphic designer from the UK. Visit his blog at Blog.DesignNocturne.com for more tutorials.

Other Design Articles You May Find Interesting

25 Comments | Write a Comment

  1. Abbey says:

    I followed this tutorial and nothing at all happened to my reflection layer after clicking displace.

  2. Avik Sarkar says:

    Awesome tutorial!Best among all other!Really helped me.Can you create water-reflection animation using photoshop?Please help anyone in this.

  3. Janice Sullivan says:

    Great tutorial! The steps are great! Love the image too :)

  4. Ashraf says:

    Awesome water reflections Photoshop tutorial. its really helpful post. thanks

  5. leo says:

    Hi
    I think i followed all the steps correctly but when i set the displacement map the ripples look very unnatural .
    also the reflection image gets separated from the photo image by an empty space .
    http://i1124.photobucket.com/albums/l567/abdelrahman11/abdelrahmans%20album%202/r.jpg

  6. saif says:

    how nice creation of you. I thing I’ll do it, and thank for searing.

  7. Great tutorial, thanks for crediting my photo on deviantart (it’s me somadjinn :-) Do you think I could ask you however to credit the same photo from my own website for free stock photos?
    It’s a lot more beneficial to me when the link points back to my website instead of my account on deviantart. At the same time, you might find some other free stock photos on freestock.ca useful for some of your future tutorials or articles.

  8. K Bharath says:

    The final finish of the tutorial is great we cannot realize that its created using Photoshop.

  9. Dong Huh says:

    Your tutorial has been studied a lot, thanks

  10. Harry says:

    I enjoyed it so much I posted the link to this tutorial in a Flickr Photoshop Support Group thread

  11. Jack says:

    I can’t seem to get the Displacement map to work. It just shrinks the reflection layer slightly and no ripples. Where did I go wrong?

    • Aaron Chua says:

      Hi Jack
      Let me get back to you on this once I figured out what might be your problem.
      Cheers!

    • Aaron Chua says:

      Hi Jack

      You can try this:

      “When you’re ready to apply the displacement map, ctrl/cmd click on the reflection layer thumbnail to make a selection of the water area. With the reflection layer thumbnail selected go to Filter > Distort > Displace. Select the displacement map .psd form your computer, and use the same settings as I did, or if you’re using your own image, you will need to adjust the horizontal/vertical scales accordingly.”

  12. Rubel says:

    I will back again for this .

    Best Best Tutorials

  13. white says:

    very good.good tuts

  14. Mike says:

    I second that.
    It seems as just that water has always been in the picture
    Very cool tut

  15. Divair Laurindo says:

    OMG Far better than wave filter! And looks so natural :) Thanks a lot for sharing!

  16. Hugo Herrera says:

    Great Tutorial! thanks

  17. Very cool! This is the best looking reflection effect I’ve ever seen. All the other ones look way too fake.

    - John Shaver

Follow My Twitter Subcribe Full RSS