photoshop creative

Photoshop tutorial: How to create a water reflection

Posted in:
General, by Mark White
September 10, 2013

A lacklustre landscape can be tranformed with the addition of a watery river, complete with beautiful and realistic-looking reflection! Below are the steps on how to do it.

How to create a reflection in Photoshop

You’ll be creating the effect of motion and need to decide how much ripple and movement you want your area of water to have. This is all made possible using a combination of Photoshop filters such as Ocean Ripple, Clouds and Glass. By experimenting with the different settings it’s possible to produce an array of different watery reflection variations.

We have chosen a cityscape for our image and transformed the grassy area into an expanse of water in front of the buildings. You cand download that image here. However, this effect can be equally successfully applied to a variety of images, not only of landscapes but of people and objects.

Some experimentation may be needed to achieve the correct perspective and amount of reflected image, but by following our steps you can create a watery rippled surface entirely from scratch and transform this image’s area of lawn into liquid.


We’ve provided the start image used here, so go ahead and DOWNLOAD that image now (right-click>save as) then open it in Photoshop. Right-click on the background layer and choose Create Layer from Background. Choose Image>Canvas Size and enter a Height of 19.5 cm (greater than the original image height). Click OK and use the Move tool to drag the layer with the buildings image onto the top of the canvas.




Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to drag out across the grassy area from just below the railings. Create a new layer and call it ‘Mask’. Use the Paint Bucket tool to fill the selection with colour. Press Ctrl/Cmd+D to deselect. Choose a small, hard-edged brush and go along the upper edge of the filled area, making it less rigid.




Choose the Blur tool and go along the ripply edge we created with the brush to blur it slightly. Ensure the Mask layer is above the Buildings layer. Right-click the Buildings layer and pick Duplicate Layer. Finally, go to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical.


Clip it  Call this new layer ‘Reflection’. Move it above the Mask layer. Right- click on the Reflection layer and choose Create Clipping Mask. This will now mean that your reflected image will appear in the area you created in the Mask layer.





Choose the Move tool, and with the Reflection layer selected use it to move the reflected buildings so that not all of them are visible. Due to the angle, not all of the tree and pavement area would be visible, so make sure that roughly the same amount of the reflected building is visible as in our image.




With the Reflection layer selected, choose Filter>Distort>Ocean Ripple and enter a value of 5 as the Ripple Size and 3 as the Ripple Magnitude. Choose Filter>Blur>Motion Blur
and apply a blur Amount of about 20 to the Reflection layer.



Create a new document measuring the same width as our image, but over double the height. We created a new document measuring 19.51cm in width and 25cm in height. The reason the document is larger is that we’ll squash the ripples down later when they are pasted into the other document. Choose Filter>Render>Clouds.




Next, select Filter>Distort>Glass and enter a Distortion of 20, Smoothness of 8 and Scaling of 160%. Make sure that Frosted is chosen as the texture and click OK. Now choose Select>All, Edit>Copy and then move across to the other document.



Select Edit>Paste to paste it onto a new layer. Name it ‘Ripple 1’. Move it below the Reflection layer. Choose Edit>Free Transform and reduce Ripple 1 in height so it’s the same size and place as the reflected buildings at the bottom of the canvas. Reduce the opacity of Ripple 1 to 67% and the Reflection layer to 50%.


Move to the rippled document and copy/paste it to the other document. Call this layer ‘Ripple 2’ and move it below the Reflection layer but above Ripple 1. These should also have a small arrow appear next to their layer thumbnail to indicate they’ll clip to the area created in the Mask layer.




Reduce the opacity of the Ripple 2 layer to 80% and change the blending mode to Multiply. To make the perspective of the ripples more realistic, click on Ripple 2 and pick Edit> Transform>Perspective. Drag the bottom left and right handles out so the ripples at the bottom are more dispersed. Repeat for the Ripple 1 layer.




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  • Lorri Davey

    Nice tutorial. I would would add more wave to the water and pull the buildings more upright.

  • Thanks