Photo Reflection Effect

Recreating Apple’s iWeb photo reflection effect

With Apple’s release of iWeb — an amazing web site building tool — I’ve been getting a steady stream of emails wanting to know how to recreate the nifty photo reflection effect which appears at the top of iWeb pages and in the slide shows (here’s a sample). Adding such a reflection is a super easy way to add depth and a bit of sophistication to your photographs.

Today I will show you how to create a reflection of your very own in Photoshop, and we’ll do it in a manner that retains maximum flexibility within our document so you can plop your photo onto any color background you want.

Those of you who’ve been listening to my graphics tip on Your Mac Life show know that I’m slightly enamored with dragons at the moment (I’m halfway through Eldest by Christopher Paolini). With that in mind, I took a journey to iStockphoto.com and searched on the keyword combination: dragon fantasy. And just to prove that iStockphoto really does have the perfect image for any project, (beams with pride) look what I found:

Preparing the photo

Step 1: Pop open a Soon To Be Beautifully Reflected Photo, and immediately duplicate the Background layer by pressing Command + J (PC: Ctrl + J).

TIP: If you have nothing selected (no marching ants) Command + J duplicates the entire layer. If you do have a selection, Command + J pops just that portion up onto its own layer. This is a handy keyboard shortcut to have in one’s bag-o-tricks.

Step 2: Double click the Background layer so that it becomes editable, and name it “reflection”. This is what my Layers Palette looks like now:

Step 3: We need some room for our reflection so let’s increase the canvas size. Press C to select the Crop tool, draw a box around the image, and drag the bottom handle out a ways as shown below. Press Return to accept the Crop.

Step 4: While the reflection layer is still selected (it’ll appear light blue in the Layers Palette), press Command + T (PC: Ctrl + T) to invoke Free Transform. Control click (PC: Right click) within the transform box and a contextual menu will appear. Choose Flip Vertical and press Return to accept the transform. This flips the reflection layer upside down.

Step 5: Press V to select the move tool. Press and hold the Shift key while dragging the reflection layer to the bottom of your document, so that the ends of the two photo layers *almost* meet. For the iWeb reflection effect, you want to leave a 1-2 pixel gap between the photos, like so:

TIP: Holding the Shift key while moving a layer locks it into place horizontally (or vertically), depending upon the direction you’re dragging. Just another example of how Photoshop helps to protect us against ourselves.

Fade it out

Step 6: Add a layer mask to the reflection layer by clicking the circle within a square icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

Step 7: While the mask is still selected (note the tiny hairline border around it above), press G to select the Gradient tool. From the options toolbar at the top of your screen, choose Foreground to Transparent from the pop-up menu, then click the Reflected button, as shown below.

Step 8: Back on the document, click towards the bottom of the image and then drag upward to roughly the height you’d like the reflection to be. I held the Shift key down to lock the gradient into being perfectly straight.

TIP: If you’re nonplussed by your first Professional Gradient Dragging Attempt, just give it another go.

Add a background

Step 9: Command click (PC: Ctrl click) the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette. TIP: Holding the Command (or Ctrl) key makes the new layer appear below the current layer. Very handy indeed.

Step 10: Take a peek at the color chips at the bottom of the main Toolbox. If necessary, press D to set them to the default of black and white, then press X until black hops on top. Fill the new layer with black by pressing Option + Delete (PC: Alt + Delete).

Step 11: To complete the effect, select the reflection layer and lower the opacity to about 50%.

Here’s the final result:

See how easy that was? And flexible too: By choosing a foreground to transparent gradient and by putting the black background on its own layer, you can experiment with your background color, and make it match whatever you want to place the photo on. Here’s the final result on white:

Until next week, may the Photoshop force be with you all 😉

The Graphic Reporter



  1. Jo 14 April, 2008 at 21:08 Reply

    hi there,
    Somehow, i cannot do the same as you mention in step 10, it is like a black mirror…. but anyhow.. the results is not the same as yours…. can you help ??

  2. Bob 1 May, 2008 at 22:26 Reply

    I attempt to replicate your steps word for word, but for some unknown reason the gradient tool will not apply to the layer, i have attempted this multiple times I flip the original move it down create a layer, select it, select the appropriate gradient tool and aspects, drag the line from bottom to top and nothing appears on the layer, some help would be great. Thanks

  3. Solomon Chan 4 May, 2008 at 03:26 Reply

    Hi there,

    I have placed a “cut-out photo” on iWeb that shows the background cut out being transparent on the iWeb but once i published it, the cut out transparent bit becomes black patch, can you please advise how to i rectify that? You can see that problem on my web page ” AbacusSMA.co.uk under “SMA System” where the photo with the girl in red and the baby genius. Something wrong with iWeb?

    Many thanks in advance

  4. André 8 March, 2009 at 22:42 Reply

    excellent! thank you so much! it’s exactly what I was looking for (and thanks Google Feeling Lucky)

  5. grant 15 March, 2009 at 18:54 Reply

    thank you so much i love your step by step and it was really easy to follow. made my background i made for some one a whole lot better. again thank you

  6. Garris 24 October, 2009 at 16:08 Reply

    This simple reflection trick will work only on framed images with solid backgrounds and is not universal (fits only one given colour).
    The major problem is that the Adobe folks still didn’t bother to add the directional feather or gradient transparency function even in the PS CS4 version (Corel had it already 10 years ago). Which forces to use all these unelegant and tiring tricks.
    The only way to overcome it on free-shape images with no bg is still to use the gradient eraser.
    Don’t forget to skew the reflected object if it is captured at some angle, so it is lined up with the main object along the bottom.
    The output artwork should be then saved with png24 format with transparent bg. It can be universally planted then on any colour, on any gradient bg.

  7. Amanda Maddox 13 March, 2010 at 08:26 Reply

    I have been using this technique but cannot figure out a way to do reflections on round images – a bit difficult to explain in words, but hav ea look at the first photo in my slideshow here http://www.amandamaddox.com/product_photography.aspx you will see I have cosmetic cream tubs, which are round, and the reflection doesnt look very real because its a straight line reflected below. Any ideas how to produce a realistic surface reflection on these?

  8. Tracy 28 March, 2010 at 04:42 Reply

    I am having trouble trying to add reflection to one of my photos, its a fairly colourful one. I am using photoshop elements 6.0 and tried to add the reflection but it wont work.
    Can this be done in the photoshop I am using. Could you please help me? Thankyou

  9. By Hand 31 January, 2011 at 17:12 Reply

    An amazing tutorial! I stumbled on your page when I was trying to find some tutorial to improve my product photography. This would massively improve the images on my site. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! 🙂

  10. Mattchew 28 March, 2011 at 11:56 Reply

    If the gradient won’t work, make sure you aren’t trying to apply it to your original background – it is a locked layer. Apply the Flip transform and gradient mask to Layer 1 instead.

  11. smartypants without the smarty 16 June, 2011 at 22:48 Reply

    this helped me sooooooo much! Thank you, I am using this technique for my yearbook cover project and it just looks amazing. Once again thank you very very much! 🙂

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