How to create water reflections in Photoshop


Fit for any kind of situations, a common question when using Photoshop is how to create the effect of a water reflection inside Photoshop. This procedure works best if you create the reflection completely on your own rather than trying to alter an already loaded texture like, for example, water.

Today we are going to apply this technique to a portrait in order to create a realistic water reflection like if our subject was facing a pond.

Resources needed:

You need a good quality photo in order to produce a photorealistic result. If you happen to have an already made displacement map that can adapt to the needs of a water reflection effect it would be perfect since it can save you many steps, if not we are going to learn how to create it through this guide.

Doberman Pinscher dog

Workflow for creating a water reflection in Photoshop

Select the image you want to work with and load it in Photoshop – If the image is way too large (like mine’s), it would be best if you reduce it.

Duplicate the layer with the shortcut CTRL+J

Go to Image – Canvas Size, and apply the parameters displayed below


Select all in the Layer 1 and go to the Edit menu – Free Transform – Flip Vertical


CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E to create a capture of everything so far, then create a new layer


Fill the new layer with white and go to Filters Gallery. Apply a line halftone pattern with a size of 5 and contrast value in 4. You can go with bigger sizes in halftone pattern if your image is a really large size.


Hold down CTRL while pressing Layer 1 to make a selection of the bottom part where the flipped version of the dog is located and then go to Edit – Free Transform – Perspective


Grab from the bottom and push it outside like I do in this image


Then go to Layer – Duplicate Layer. Duplicate the layer into a new document


Save that document for using it as a displacement map

Discard that layer we used for the displacement map at the original file and then convert the capture we made into a Smart Object.


Apply a Motion Blur filter of angle 90 and 1 px – If the size of the image is too large use a radius of 10 or more.


Go to Filters – Displace and apply a displacement filter with the displacement map we used.


Since my image size is too large I have to readjust the displacement scale to a value between 30-50. Then create a Layer Mask and mask with black the upper part of the smart object.


Apply a Hue/Saturation layer to the smart object and reduce the saturation applied to it


Finally, decrease the opacity on the smart object and the effect is accomplished


As you can see, a quick, smart way to create realistic water reflections in Photoshop. Consider that the image size and its properties will affect the overall effect, and as bigger the image tend to be the most difficult becomes to create the effect in an efficient way.

Notice that you can also use the Ripple filter in order to add more realism to the scene we created.

Good luck and keep editing!

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