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Isolation with a reflection

Reflections are not so common in product image retouching, but you might encounter them when you get to retouch watches, perfume, and jewelry. You might even get a job in an online perfume store and work with reflections all the time. Despite the fact that it's quite possible to shoot images with reflections, a more traditional approach is just fake them. It saves time on isolation, cleaning and other things you normally do to an image. Because if you want to keep a reflection, you have to isolate it, and it also might be dirty because the backdrop is dirty – there are so many things that can go wrong here. Unlike fake shadows, fake reflections don't look so bad. Now let's see what's so special about them.

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In some cases, especially if you work with jewelry, cosmetics or perfumes, you'll have to create reflections of the items instead of shadows. It's a tricky process if you want it to be automatic, but let's first see how to reflect an item and then move on to the automation process.

I'll select the background around this watch with one click of the Magic Wand. I don't need to be very thorough and click in the holes, as it's not necessary at all. It's not even necessary to use the Magic wand, I can just make a rectangular selection with the Marquee tool. It just has to cover the whole item and the bottom border must be exactly in the bottom of the item, as this is where it's going to be reflected. That's it. Let's not waste our time and start recording an action straight away. Reflecting an item is easy, anyone can do it. First of all, copy the contents of the selection to a separate layer by pressing Ctrl-J. Now press Ctrl-T to transform it. Before doing anything else, you have to alter the reference point location by clicking on the lower middle square, which is located to the right in the tool panel. After that, right-click anywhere on the image to bring the menu and then click on the "Flip Vertical" command. There it goes! Now press OK and that's it. You can stop recording for now.

If you're not going for a fully automatic solution, you can just reduce the opacity of the reflection layer at this point, and then grab a big soft eraser and erase it until you like the result. But if you want a fully automatic action that doesn't require you to do anything at all, keep watching. The problem here is that every image is unique, and it is virtually impossible to write an action that will be applicable to all the possible image sizes. We'll have to input some values in pixels and what works on small images won't work on large images and vice versa. But the good thing about catalogue retouching is that you usually work with similar images, and in the end you resize them. So instead of a bunch of objects that are unpredictable in terms of size, you normally have a bunch of images exactly the same size, and objects in these images are usually also uniform in height and width.

This image here is a final image, it's already reduced in width and height, now it's 1000 pixels wide and 1500 pixels high. There are margins from all the four sides, 150 pixels wide each, and the objects only touch them, but they don't get any bigger than that. Having all that in mind, I can improve the reflecting action so that it works on its own. First of all, I don't need to select the object as I can automatically determine where the lower border is. Now I'll start recording and add a few commands at the beginning of the reflecting action. I'll press Ctrl-A to Select all the image, and now I'll go to the Select menu and click on the Transform Selection command. Once again, I'll alter the reference point location by clicking on the lower middle square. And then I'll change the Height from 1500 pixels to 1350 pixels, the height of the image minus the bottom margin. The selection will move up 150 pixels, which will select exactly what I need: the object, and the bottom of the selection shows the line where it will be reflected. Now stop recording. Pay attention to the fact that these two commands we've just recorded fell to the bottom of the action, so select them both by clicking on one of them and Ctrl-clicking on the other. Now drag them up so that they come first.

Now if you go back in History to where we started and run the action, it should automatically select the object and flip it vertically on the separate layer. Let's record further steps so that the reflection gets modified automatically. Go to the end of the action and press the Begin recording button. Ctrl-click on the top layer to select its contents, then press Q to enter the Quick Mask mode. Here comes the tricky part. Go to the Filters menu, the Blur submenu and click on the Radial blur command. It's tricky because the Radial Blur doesn't give you a preview, so it's time to do some guessing. Set the Method to Zoom and Quality to Good, but the rest of the settings are really up to you. Normally I don't have to move the center at all, and the amount of 50 works pretty well. Do some experimentation on your own to find out what works best for you. Moving the center of the blur down will leave you with a smaller reflection, and so will picking a small amount. You can reset the settings by holding Ctrl – the Cancel button will change to Default, click on it and all the settings will be reset. There's no other way to set the Blur center to 0 if you move it. So, stop recording and do some experimentation or try my settings – 50 Amount, Zoom, Good quality, default Blur center, and then press Enter. The red mask will be blurred. Now quit the Quick mask mode by pressing Q again and press the Delete key on your keyboard. The reflection will be partially erased. Now change the Layer opacity to something about 50% or as you like it, and flatten the image.

That's it, now you can stop recording. Now you can use this action on all the images of exactly the same size and alignment as shown in my example. Or you can change the selection transformation settings so that it automatically selects your particular images, now that you know how to do it. If you don't work with images of the same size, but still want to use the action, you can do so by removing the first two steps, which are the Select all and the Transform Selection commands. All you have to do is select the object so that the bottom border of the selection shows where it should be reflected. As for the Radial Blur settings – they might work or they might not, you can be only sure if you use it on the images of the same size. But I tested it a bit and it mostly works. Remember to select the whole object, not its part, or the Radial Blur won't really blur it well.

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About the Radial Blur. You might wonder why I use it instead of a gradient because what we actually need is gradually erase the reflection. Problem is, gradients cannot be automatically applied to selections. It is possible if you record the Gradient Tool, but it will be tied to the coordinates, while the Radial blur will only be depending on the overall resolution of the image. As in catalogue retouching we usually work with images of about the same size, be it high-res or low-res, a Radial Blur based action will work better than a Gradient-based. If you only work with images of exactly the same size and alignment, you can use the Gradient Tool for the same matter without any problems. It's up to you, as my goal was to show you a method so that if you had to make reflections for some project, you would know how to do it. The method I described is not the only one and it's probably not the best one, but it works.

I think that's pretty much everything that is worth mentioning about reflections instead of shadows.

You can download the image for practice purposes from the gallery above. Just click on the thumbnail to open it in a separate window. You can right-click and "Save link as…" to download the image without having to open it first.

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