have you ever wondered how to make water reflection in Photoshop? maybe you tried to do it before, followed some tutorials, and struggled to get it to look realistic.

well look no further, because in this tutorial, you are going to learn how to create a realistic water reflection by leveraging the power of blend if and displacement maps inside of photoshop

We will start by showing you how to create the reflection and warp it to match it exactly with your subject, then we will create the water ripple effect using the distort filter and I’ll show you how to create a displacement map to achieve the ripple effect, and lastly, we will blend the reflection using blend if and blending modes

so without any further ado, let’s get started

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Step 1 – Remove The Background and Match The Perspective

First, make sure to have your image ready and the background is removed,  as you can see here I already masked the subject and added a layer mask, and I chose an image with similar lighting conditions so we can focus on creating the reflection

How to Make Water Reflection in Photoshop

for this image we need to match the perspective first so start by flipping the image by clicking on ctrl or cmd + t and then choose flip horizontal

Now if you hold shift and click on the layer mask do disable it,  you can see that the horizon line of the subject image is higher then the background, so you need to drag the image to the bottom to match the horizon lines so you get the right perspective when you scale the image down

When you do that click on ctrl or cmd + t to get to the free transform and then drag the anchor point and align it with the horizon line of the background,  and now when you hold alt or option and scale the image It will scale based on that anchor point

Step 2 – Mirror Your Subject

Ok let’s create the reflection,  and what you need to do is make a copy of the subject by dragging the layer while holding alt or option, then click on ctrl or cmd + t again and move the anchor point down and then right click and choose flip vertical

Align the reflection with the subject,  and you can see that the legs are not matching in this case,  so to fix this we need to warp the image and align the legs

Now before we do that you need to apply the layer mask first and convert the layer to smart object,  so right click on the layer and choose rasterize layer, then right click on the mask and choose apply layer mask, and then convert the layer to smart object again so you can work with smart filters and you will be able to change he value of it later, then go to edit, puppet warp

so what you need to do first is add a new point on the left leg so its becomes locked and it wont move when you warp the image,   then add another point to  the other leg and you will see when you move this point the other leg will stay locked in place,   you can also rotate the point by holding alt or option,

Now align the right leg with the subject and add other points if you feel the need to,  and now add one last point at the bottom to realign the whole shadow,   then click on the checkmark to accept the changes and use the arrow keys to align the reflection further

Step 3 – Create The Displacement Map and Apply a Distort Filter

Ok now that the reflection is in place you need to create the ripple effect,  and if you take a look at some reference images you will see that water reflection will always have some distorted edges and if you want to master How to Make Water Reflection in Photoshop and make it look realistic we need to recreate that inside of photoshop

So to create the ripple effect you need to first create something called a displacement map,  and to do that right-click on the background image layer and choose duplicate layer, and in the destination, choose new from the document dropdown

Now desaturate the layer by clicking on ctrl + shift + u, then you can increase the contrast will levels (ctrl or cmd + L) to get a better distortion, then save the file as a PSD and call it displacement

you can now close the file,  select the reflection layer,   and then go to filter,  distort,  displace, and in the horizontal and vertical scale, change the value to 30, then check ”stretch to fit” and ”repeat edge pixels” and click ok,  now Photoshop is going to ask you which  displacement to use,   so choose the displacement PSD file you just created it and click on open

as you can see the ripple distortion is applied based on the displacement map file, so if you want a different ripple texture you can use a displacement map from other images as well

Step 4 – Blend The Reflection With The Ground Using Blend if

Ok now we need to blend this reflection with the water in the background because it should be visible only on the water and not the sand,   and to do that double click on the layer to bring the layer style dialogue box and in the blend if options in the underlying slider you are going to drag the right slider to the left to make it not visible in the highlights

And to make the transition smoother and blend it better with the background hold alt or option to split the slider,  and as you can see this step will make the reflection a lot more realistic

You can now add a levels adj layer to make the shadow darker, or you can change the blending mode to multiply

Step 5 – Match The Color of The Subject to The Background

What’s left to do now is matching the color of the subject to the background by adding a color balance adj layer and clipping it to the subject using alt or option and add some red and yellow,  then a levels adj layer and darken it a little bit

then add a hue saturation adj layer to the reflection layer,  check colorize and then change the hue to red to match the color of the subject 

And lastly add some blur by going to filter,  blur,   gaussian blur,  and add a small amount of 1px or less to reduce the sharpness and help the reflection blend better with the background

So that’s how to make water reflections in photoshop and make it look realistic using the displace filter and blend if,  Checkout my tutorial on how to create a realistic underwater effect

If you want to learn even more about compositing,  then make sure to enroll in my free compositing course,  and also check out my courses at the RetutStudio academy,  every purchase you make there help me create free content for you here so thank you for your support

If you enjoyed this tutorial and you learned something new today, let us know what you think in the comments below, i’ll be happy to answer any of your questions