Children frequently imagine mirrors to be something mysterious. "What if that isn't really my reflection, but another person who looks just like me!?" It's a fun and fascinating idea, that the reflected surface is really a window into an alternate existence. In this tutorial, that idea can be fully explored in a fun project that children and parents can work on together!
This project is meant to be a collaboration between parent and child. Begin by planning out the project together, explain the idea to your child, and encourage them to come up with fun ideas for their reflection. My daughter wanted her reflection to be an explorer! And we loved the idea of her holding her glasses in the "reality" shot while holding binoculars in the "fantasy" reflection.
This is a fairly simple project that can be a lot of fun and produce some great results. It's possible that once your child sees the final piece, their imaginations will be sparked with even more ideas. The most important point is to take this time to spend with your child and have fun!
1. Set Up the Photo Shoot
The biggest challenge to this project is finding the right space to shoot the photos! Typically, the largest mirrors are found in bathrooms, which tend to be too small to rig up substantial lighting, or have much room to maneuver to find the right angle.
Using a tripod will make combining the multiple photos easier later on, but it's entirely possible that the room is simple too small for that luxury. If that's the case, you will need to hand-hold the camera. Try to hold it as close to the same place as possible for each shot.
Find a good location to shoot the reflection. The right angle is important. The reflection should be clearly visible and unobstructed, yet the reality part of the shot must be clearly in the frame too. Take a few test shots first, before testing the patience of your child!
My daughter was excited about her costume, so we opted to do the reflection photos first! The critical element is that the reflection is fully visible and not obstructed by your child at all. This may require some coaching on position and pose, so remember to be patient and work gently. If your child begins to get frustrated with the project, it will clearly show in the photos!
Next up is a change of costume and another few photos. Encourage your child to think of different reactions they might have when seeing their strange reflection in the mirror. I found the hardest part was getting her to stand at an angle where she's looking in the mirror, but I could still see her face in the photo.
2. Prepare the Files
Now it's time to move over to Photoshop and prepare the files for the young artist to work with. For the most part, this will involve opening the two files to use, and doing any touch-ups or lighting adjustments that are required.
Open the "reaction" shot. This will be the base image for the project. Keep in mind that things are much easier if you choose a shot where the mirror's surface is fully visible and not obstructed by your child's posing.
It's always a good idea to make sure the lighting is evenly balanced before starting the project. To do this, go to Image > Adjustments > Curves, and then adjust the curve lines to meet the edges of the histogram graph. Add a central point and nudge it up slightly to increase the brightness of the mid tones.
Use the Crop Tool (C) to crop the composition down to only include the most interesting parts of the image. This helps reduce any visual distractions surrounding the reflection area.
Open the reflection shot and use the Curves adjustment again to balance the lighting in this image too. Then keep both images open in Photoshop before passing the project on to your little artist!
3. Hey Kids!
Hi there! Are you excited about working on this project? Isn't it fun to be able to make stuff like this? I know you are going to do a great job! Thanks for helping! You should see a program called Photoshop on your screen. Let's go ahead and get started!
Near the top of the screen should be two tabs. These are the two different pictures that are open. Try clicking on each one, so that you can turn from one picture to the other, then back again!
Go to the picture that shows you in your costume. We need to make a copy of the reflection area. Pick the tool on the left that looks like a lasso with sharp corners. This is the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L). Use this to click on each corner of the mirror to make a selection around the reflection.
Now go to Edit > Copy (Control-C). This copies the selected area into the program's memory. Then use the tabs to go to the reaction picture. Go to Edit > Paste (Control-V) to put that reflection area into this picture!
Notice on the right side of the screen there is a panel called Layers. There should be two layers in it. Think of these like invisible sheets of paper the photos are on.
The top one is the layer with the reflection on it. We need to turn this into a Smart Object. On your mouse there's another button under your second finger. Use that button to right click on the layer and pick Convert to Smart Object from the menu that comes up.
Now go to Edit >Transform > Distort to get a type of cage around the reflection layer. Click and drag the corners of this cage to match the corners of the reflection up to the corners of the mirror in the first picture.
When it looks as if it fits right, press the check mark near the top of the screen to apply the change.
Now you have a picture of yourself looking at a surprise reflection! Isn't that cool? If you want, you can stop here. Or you can move on to the next section to add some cool effects to the projects.
4. Work Together
In this section you will add some optional fun effects to make the scene look even more interesting. These steps are intended to be a team effort between the parent and child, so be sure to work together!
I found that the piece works much better with a bit of intentional color direction. We had the idea of making the "reality" portion look a little dull and grey, but the reflection portion look bright and exciting!
Go to the reflection layer and run the Camera Raw Filter. Use the following settings to help the reflection appear brighter and sharper:
- Shadows: +60
- Blacks: +18
- Clarity: +45
- Vibrance: +33
On the opposite side, the "reality" shot should be duller and slightly blurred to contrast with the sharpness of the reflection. Convert the layer of the reaction shot into a Smart Object and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, using a Radius of 1.5 px.
Use the Adjustments panel to add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer just over the reaction shot layer. Reduce the Saturation to -30 and the Brightness to -5 to get a slightly duller color to the shot. This makes the brighter, sharper reflection version even more prominent.
5. Special Effects
These effects are purely optional and just add a bit of fantasy to the scene. Any mirror that is showing a reflection of an alternate reality must be mystical in some way, so we thought it would be interesting if the mirror was glowing!
Double click the area to the right of the Reflection layer to add Layer Styles to it.
Enable the Inner Glow style with the following settings:
- Opacity: 35%
Size: 24 px
Enable the Inner Glow style with the following settings:
- Opacity: 35%
Size: 44 px
Now to add a fun light burst effect coming from the mirror. Go to the reflection layer and hold down the Alt key while going to Layer > Merge Visible to create a merged layer at the top of the layer stack. Convert this layer into a Smart Object.
Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur and set the Blur Method to Zoom. and the Amount to 75. Then move the central portion of the zoom up towards the top right to approximately the same place as the face in the reflection.
Set the merged layer's Blending Mode to Screen, and reduce the Opacity to around 50%. The good thing about using the filter on a Smart Object is that you can always go back in and change the settings. This is particularly helpful when trying to get the blur center to align with the reflection.
Add a Layer Mask to the merged layer and use a soft Brush with black paint to remove the blur effect from above the faces. The goal is to create a subtle effect that isn't distracting. Encourage your child to help with brushing on the mask to control the application of the effect.
Add a New Layer and use the Gradient tool with a bright, pale yellow
#fffec5 to create a Radial Gradient with a Foreground to Transparent gradient coming from the mirror area. Set the Blending Mode to Overlay and reduce the Opacity to 70%.
Add a Layer Mask to the gradient glow, and use the brush again to make sure the faces are fully visible.
To accentuate the brightness of the mirror, add a Lens Vignette to the reaction photo layer. Go to Filter > Lens Correction, and in the Custom tab, pull the Vignette Amount slider down to -50.
You Are Done!
Great work! I hope you've learned a lot about how to create your own fun reflections. I'd love to see your creations in the comments below.
I hope you and your child had as much fun with this project as my daughter and I did! I've got more Photoshop for Kids! tutorials along with some photo manipulation projects, custom brushes, and even more Photoshop fun. Check out my profile here at Tuts+ for my other tutorials, quick tips, and courses.