Creating perspective and a mirror image in Photoshop

« Style guides   Home   How to SEO... »

In this tutorial I'll show you how to create the look of perspective and reflection in your images.

Perspective impage

Let me give you an overview of what we're going to do. First we will create a series of guidelines that will show us how to modify our image to make it look like it is in perspective. Then we will take our flat image, duplicate it and flip it vertically. This will give us a flat image with a flat reflection. We will use the free transform tool to distort the image and reflection at the same time. It is important that both are distorted together for the effect to work. This means that our workflow must first create the reflection and then the perspective. We'll finish up by adding some visual effects to make the whole thing look slightly more believable.

The first step is to create an empty Photoshop document. The document should be much larger than the image you're working with. This is necessary to accommodate both the guidelines and the reflection. Start by making your document four times wider and four times taller than the image you will be working with. If you run out of space, just make the canvas bigger by clicking on "Image > Canvas Size," and make your canvas bigger. Start off by making two layers. One layer is for your image and one layer will be for the guidelines to help create the illusion of perspective.


To create the guidelines to help with perspective, click on the Guides layer, so that it you will be drawing on it. Now draw a vertical line on the left side of the canvas. The line tool is found if you click on the rectangle tool. Make sure that you have "Fill Pixels" selected for the drawing mode. You can pick a weight that you feel is appropriate.

Line tool

Now draw a second line from the bottom of your vertical one out to the right. This second line will go from the bottom left corner of your image to the horizon. The angle at which you draw it will determine whether it will appear that you are looking up, down, or directly at your image. For this example you can basically eyeball things, but if you want to learn how to calculate where to put the vanishing point, horizon, etc. more precisely, take a look at Kevin Hulsey's drawing perspective tutorials. Here's how I drew mine:

Guide lines

We'll add in the image now. If you copy and paste your image into your photoshop document a new layer will be created for your image, which is exactly what we want. Now we have to move the image so that it's bottom left corner is where our two guidelines are. We can use the Free Transform tool to do this (Ctr+T or "Edit > Free Transform"). When you are in free transform mode, you can use your mouse to move your image where you want it. You can fine tune the position of the image with the arrow keys. If you want, experiment with turning Snap on and off ("View > Snap").

Once you have your image positioned, click on the Guides layer and draw a line from the top left corner of the image to the right hand vanishing point. The guidelines extending from the bottom and top left of your image should intersect. Like this:

Vanishing point

If the vanishing point is above the top of the image, it'll look like you are viewing things from above. If it's below, it'll look like you are viewing from below. If it's directly to the right of the image, it'll look like you are at the same level as the image.

Finally, we have create a second vertical guide, for the right hand side of the perspective image. This line should be to the left of the edge of the image, since perspective will cause the image to appear narrower. You can figure out precisely where to put this line, but for a simple situation like this, it's easier just to eyeball things. Just imagine taking your image and swiveling it in to perspective and draw the second vertical line where the right hand side of the image would end up:

Final guide line

It's important that we create the mirror image now, since we want to distort the main and mirror image simultaneously, so that the reflection matches the perspective of the main image. To create the reflection, first duplicate the main image. Do this by clicking on the layer with the image and dragging it over the "Create a New Layer" icon, that is at the bottom right of the layers panel.

Duplicate image

Name this layer as the mirror image. I usually drag this layer below the main image, since it helps me keep track of things better.

Rename reflection

Click on the reflection layer in the layers panel and use the free transform tool to position it directly below the main image. Holding down the shift key while moving the image will constrain it to move in only several directions, so you can be sure you are moving it directly down and that you're not moving slightly off of vertical. If you want it to appear the the image is sitting directly on a reflective surface, leave no gap between the main image and reflection. I chose to introduce a small gap between the main image and reflection. This makes it appear that the main image is floating slightly.

Before you finalize the free transform, right click directly on the reflection and pick "Flip Vertical" from the fly out menu that appears. Now we have a true reflection.

Vertical flip

and voila:

True reflection

This is the point at which you may notice that you are running out of space. Increase the size of your canvas to add more space at the bottom if necessary.

To create the effect of perspective, we have to work with the main image and reflection at the same time. To do this click in the layers panel on the layer of the main image. Now shift + click on the layer of the reflection. Both layers should be highlighted:

Select both layers

If you now use the free transform tool (Ctr+T), both images should be selected. Look at how the bounding boxes goes around both images:

Bounding box

Ctr + Click on the top right corner and drag it the top right corner of your perspective guidelines. You want to distort the image and not just resize them; that's why you have to Ctr + Click for this operation and not just click.

Top right corner

This next step is probably the trickiest one of this tutorial. You have to control click on the bottom right corner of the bounding box... that's is the bottom right corner of the reflection. By dragging this corner you have to get the bottom right corner of the main image to lie over the bottom right corner of the guiding lines. So you're ctr + dragging the bottom right of the bounding box but looking at the center right of it.


We'll begin to add finishing touches. First let's change the background to pure black, or any color of your choosing. To do this click on the guides layer and then on the "Create a New Layer" icon at the bottom right of the layers panel. This will create a new panel directly below the image and reflection layers. To fill with a solid color click Alt + Backspace to fill it with the foreground color or Ctr + Backspace to fill it with the back ground color. You can also go to Edit > Fill.

Black background

To make the reflection fade out from top to bottom we'll use a layer mask. A layer mask interacts with a layer to show only certain parts of that layer. Think of it as a black piece of paper that you can cut to any shape you want and lay it over the layer you're working with. In the areas where a layer mask is black, the layer becomes invisible. In areas where the layer mask is white, the layer is unchanged. If the layer mask is a shade of gray, then the layer is partially visible.

To add our layer mask, first click on the layer with the reflection to select it in the layer panel. Now click on the "Create Layer Mask" icon. This is toward the bottom left of the layers panel. It looks like a square with a circle inside

New layer mask icon"

This will give you a layer mask associated with the reflection.

Layer mask

Click on the white square that is the layer mask, so that you can edit it directly. We will add a gradient to it. Make sure your foreground color is white and your background color is black. If they are not, just click on the small black and white boxes up and to the left of the foreground and background colors. To select the gradient tool hit Ctr+G or select it from the tool menu on the left. Things should look like this:

Gradient tool

The look we want to achieve is for the reflection to fade away from top to bottom. Remember that the areas where the layer mask is black will make the reflection disappear, so we want to click on the image and draw the gradient line from the bottom right to the top left. This will make the layer mask blacker toward the bottom right and whiter toward the top left. Try making your gradient. If you are not satisfied with the results hit Ctr+Z to undo it and try it again. The results should look something like this:

Fade out of reflection

Even if the background of your image is another color, you will use a black to white gradient for your layer mask. This is because a layer mask makes the layer it is associated with visible with white and invisible with black. So even if the background of your image is red, your reflection will be visible over the red background if your layer mask is white and invisible if your layer mask is black.

After adding the gradient, your layer mask will look something like this:

Gradient layer maske

To make the reflection a little more convincing, decrease the Opacity of the reflection layer. Make sure that the reflection layer is selected in they Layers panel. Now use the slider bar at the top right of the panel to change the opacity of the reflection layer. I've found 50% to look nice.

To finish the image, turn off the background color and guides layer. Select "Image > Trim..." and click Based on Transparent Pixels and Top, Right, Left, and Bottom. This will trim away all the excess canvas. To add back a slight border use "Image > Canvas Size..." and select Relative. With Relative selected you only have to type in the twice the thickness of the border you want width and height wise.

Adding the border back

Once done with resizing turn the background color layer back on by clicking on the eyeball icon to the left of it, and you're done!

Finished image