1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

How to Create Realistic Water Drop Reflections in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

As part of our series on creating custom Photoshop Brushes from Scratch, I published a Quick Tip on how to capture and create custom water drops and turn them into brushes in Adobe Photoshop. If you missed that, please take a moment and read through it here first: How to Create Custom Water Drop Brushes in Adobe Photoshop.

This Quick Tip is an extension of that lesson. But here we will use those brushes to create a photo manipulation of realistic water drops.

1. Gather Resources

To complete this project you will need the water drop brushes from the previous Quick Tip. You can download those with the Download Attachment link associated with this tutorial.

You will also need an image to use for the backdrop. Just about any image can work, but the effect is better with one that looks gray and rainy. I used this Street Scene.

2. Install Brushes

If you haven't already installed the water drop brushes, go to Edit > Presets > Preset Manager. Make sure the Preset Type is set to Brushes and press the Load button. Navigate to the CustomWaterDrops.abr file to install the brushes.

Use the Preset Manager to install the brushes

Notice the five new water drop Brush Presets in your brush library.

3. Add the Basic Water Drops

The idea of this project is to simulate the appearance of looking through a window that has a splattering of rain drops on it. So the first and most obvious step is to create those drops.

Step 1

Open the street scene image and add a New Layer (Control-Shift-N) called Water Drops.

Add a layer for the water drops

Step 2

Fill the layer with white by going to Edit > Fill and selecting White from the Contents pull-down menu.

Fill the layer with White

Switch to the Brush Tool (B) and open the Brush Presets panel. Make sure the foreground color is set to Black and use the new Water Drop Brushes to add a splattering of water drops.

Step 3

Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) with a Tolerance of 5 and the Contiguous option enabled. Click on a portion of the white background area to create a selection of the white background but not the water drops.

Select the white backdrop

Create a layer mask by going to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection.

Mask out the water drops

Step 4

Change the layer's Blending Mode to Overlay. Then double-click the layer to open the Layer Style dialogue box and add the following style settings.

Add an Inner Shadow layer style:

  • Turn Off the Use Global Light
  • Size: 24 px
Inner Shadow layer style

Add an Inner Glow layer style:

  • Opacity: 34%
  • Glow Color: #f2f3f5
  • Size: 10 px

Add a Drop Shadow layer style:

  • Turn Off the Use Global Light
  • Distance: 12 px
  • Size: 9 px

So the water drops should now look something like this.

Water drops with layer styles

4. Create the Background Effect

If this were an actual photograph and the camera were focused on the water drops, the background would be out of focus.

Step 1

Duplicate the background with Layer > Duplicate Layer or press (Control-J). Then run a Gaussian Blur filter on the copy. Use a Radius of 10 px.

Blurred Background

Step 2

Control-click on the Water Drop layer mask to create a selection. Then make sure the blurred background layer is the active layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection. Now the blurry effect is removed from the water drops.

Remove blur from the water drops

Step 3

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation to -29 and set the Lightness to +7. Then clip the adjustment layer to the blurred background layer with Layer > Create Clipping Mask (Alt-Control-G).

Clip a HueSaturation Adjustment layer

Step 4

Add another New Layer (Shift-Control-N) called Vignette. Fill this layer with white and set the Blend Mode to Multiply. Then go to Filter > Lens Correction (Shift-Control-R). In the Custom tab, slide the Vignette amount slider down to -74.

Lens Correction filter

This will add a subtle darkening to the outside edges of the image.

Add vignette to make the drops stand out

5. Add Reflections to the Water Drops

A close study of actual water drops reveals an amazing phenomenon. Each drop contains a full reflection of the surrounding environment. The reflection is distorted due to the curve of the water surface, but it is undeniably there. Adding this tiny detail really helps the illusion become more convincing.

Step 1

Create another Duplicate of the background layer with (Control-J). Use Free Transform (Control-T) to Scale the copy down to about half the size of the original. Then move this layer up to the top of the layer stack.

Add a scaled down copy of the background to the top of the layer stack

Step 2

Control-click the layer thumbnail to create a selection around it. Then go to Filter > Distort > Spherize. Set the Amount to 100%.

Spherize setings

Step 3

Cancel the selection with Select > Deselect (Control-D). Then Duplicate the distorted layer with (Control-J). Hide the original layer and use Free Transform (Control-T) to Move and Scale the copied layer to fit over a single drop of water.

Move distorted reflection over a single drop

Change the layer's blending mode to Overlay and reduce the Opacity to 60%.

Blending the reflection into the drop

Step 4

Continue to make copies of the distorted layer until all the larger drops have reflections over them.

Several reflection layers

Step 5

Shift-click all the reflection layers and group them together with Layer > Group Layers (Control-G)

Group Reflection Layers

Control-click the layer mask for the Water Drops layer to create a selection. Then use the selection to create a mask for the Reflections group with Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Masking the Reflections group

Step 6

Add an Inner Glow layer style to the Reflections group with these settings.

  • Opacity: 48%
  • Glow Color: #eaeae6
  • Source: Center
  • Size: 49 px
Inner Glow for reflections group

Step 7

For a more distinctive reflection effect, move the Reflections group beneath the Water Drops group.

Brighter reflections by changing the layer order

Awesome Work, You're Done!

Final Water Drop Effect

Keep in mind that the techniques and settings presented here are just one way to approach this effect. These are not magical settings. You should experiment with images of your own and find what works best in your own project.

If you've tried this for yourself, I'd love to see what you've created with it! Add your work in the comments below.

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