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How to remove reflections in Photoshop

Some objects have metal elements that will reflect everything around them. Retouching reflections is tricky for many of us because it's not easy to determine what exactly you have to remove and what has to be left in place. It's not that hard to learn how to remove reflections in Photoshop. The deal is that reflections are not a bad thing in general, as they are real and they can be very pretty. There is one simple rule that I always use in cases like this: you should always be on a lookout for two things: warm skin reflections on monochrome objects and photographer and studio equipment reflections. They should be removed in Photoshop. The rest is fine.

A warm reflection on neutral metal

This bag here is blue, and all the metal parts are of neutral color. But why is this reflection in the center so warm? It looks orange, is it okay or not? The answer is "it's not okay". If the bag does not have anything that could cast this orange color, it means it came from somewhere else. In most cases when you work with studio images and see orange reflections on neutral metal elements, it's a photographer's face or hands, basically, human skin reflecting in metal. Which means that it should be removed in the retouching process.

The easiest way to do so is to pick a color from a neutral spot and colorize the reflection with the Brush in Color blending mode. The shortcut for the Color blending mode is Alt-Shift-C. You can also desaturate it with the Sponge Tool if the metal surface itself is neutral.

Say "Hello!" to the photographer

What if it's not just color that is reflecting, but some objects that has nothing to do with the items themselves? It's not a good thing when that happens. Retouchers are supposed to remove all the weird reflections, but the process might be tricky and time-consuming.

This dark reflection doesn't look good

Photographers should also make some effort to prevent reflections from appearing in the first place. This watch was shot with no precautions, so if you zoom in you can see this big reflection, there are the photographer's hands there. And this big black reflection wouldn't look so appealing even if there were no hands.

All the reflections are rather small and don't require retouching

Compare it with this image, where the photographer used a plastic tube and made a shot through it. There are no color tints or any face or hand reflections in the metal surface. There are some reflections that show us that the metal is shiny, but this is a good thing, as it doesn't require any retouching. Well, as long as you take care of fingerprints and dirt. So if you work in a store that mostly deals in jewelry or any other metal objects, make sure the photographers are aware of the reflections they create with their own hands. We'll get back to watches later, but for now, let's deal with something more simple and raise the difficulty of what we're doing gradually.

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Look at this bag buckle. You can see two reflections of the camera lens and the photographer's hands as well. They used a sheet of paper as a shield to prevent their face and the camera from being reflected, but there's still a lot of work to do even with this partial reflection. Anyway, the first thing you have to do when working with reflections is to determine what exactly is being reflected. If it's some other parts of the same item, like this small reflection here, it's okay. But if you can see a person or any studio equipment, remove them. How? Well, as I said, metal doesn't really have a surface. You can smudge it all the way you want. But make sure you preserve the outlines of the reflections, or the result will look unnatural.

If I just picked a light color and then used a round hard brush in Normal mode to fill these two round thingies with it, it wouldn't look so great. Not critically bad, but we really should use a more subtle approach. I'll use the Round Marquee Tool and make two round selections to protect the edges. Then I'll grab the Normal brush, but pick the color a bit darker than the first time. I will only use the brush on the area filled with the dark reflection. This way it looks much more natural than before. The rest looks fine as it is, so our work here is done. But if you want, you can always use the Mixer Brush to smooth the edges even more, just don't spend too much time on that.

When you retouch anything that is made of metal or any other reflecting material, you have to determine whether a particular reflection requires removing or not. There are “good” reflections that help us perceive the characteristics of the material, and there are “bad” reflections, that look ugly or contain hands and faces and other weird objects. Preserve good reflections and remove bad reflections – this is the main idea. Do not try to eliminate as many reflections as you can just because you can because it will alter the texture and make it look less shiny, which is not a good thing when it happens. Sometimes it happens inevitably – when you remove a reflection, you basically replace it with a smooth surface. Make sure you try to save as many reflections as possible, or your object will look weird.

This cuff link here reflects many things. It reflects itself as well as the studio and the photographer. Let's see what happens if I remove all the reflections I can reach. First of all, I'll make a round selection with the Eraser in the Quick Mask mode to protect the edges. Then I'll use the Surface Blur – 35 Radius, 65 Threshold this time. The bigger the Threshold value, the more feathery and blurry everything gets. Sometimes you might struggle with the settings because whatever you put there will look like it's not enough. Don't be discouraged when that happens, as there's a simple solution to this problem: just use the Surface blur twice. Or three, or four times, it won't make the image look worse. But in this particular situation, I think that three times is enough. There's just this big dark spot here, which is the photographer. It's easier to just paint it over with the Brush in Lighten mode. I'll pick the color from some place that is neither dark, not a part of a glare. I know, I know it doesn't look all pretty yet, just wait. The result looks weird because the cuff link is supposed to reflect itself. Now when there are no more dark spots, let's grab the History Brush and restore all the good reflections with it. Make sure the tip is soft. Now when the nice reflections are back, our tampering with the image is not so evident anymore. The result is quite decent. But it could be much better if I preserved the white glare. Without it, the cuff link doesn't look so shiny. So let's try another approach.

Instead of using the Surface Blur, I'll just grab the Brush in Lighten mode and paint over the black reflections. I will eradicate the photographer completely, but the black reflection in the middle should stay there at least at 50% opacity, otherwise, it would look strange. Then I'll smudge the surface with the Mixer Brush. It will make the glare softer, but it will mostly stay in place. Remember, that whenever you remove a reflection, you leave a flat smooth surface, so try to preserve glares as much as you can.

If you're really in a hurry and can't sit there and spend time experimenting with the Surface Blur and Brush blending modes, there's another way, which is very quick but also dirty. Grab the Normal, 100% opaque and soft brush, pick a color just like before and then just cover the whole studio reflection with it. Quick, right? But now it looks totally flat even with all the good reflections still intact. So I don't really advise you use this method unless you are in a big hurry.

Painting over reflections is a good method when you work with something that is made of metal. Like watches and jewelry. But sometimes you won't be able to grab a huge brush and just paint with it. Sometimes you'll have to make a selection first. But that's not really hard. This watch doesn't reflect the photographer's face, hands or camera, but it's very dark and ugly. If I had a minute to spare on this image, I would gladly remove it. I've created this selection using the Pen Tool, but I'll omit the process of its creation to save you time, I'll just load it from a path. And then I'll grab a big soft and non-transparent Brush and fill the whole area with a matching color. Just like that, in one go. If I zoom in to 100% scale, you'll see that the real metal texture is not much different from the solid color I've used, that's why it's possible. Sometimes metal looks more noisy than that, but you can easily add some noise with the Add Noise filter. Something like 0,5 or 1 usually works well.


You can download the images for practice purposes from the gallery above. Each thumbnail is linked to the respective hi-res image, just click on the thumbnails you need to open them in a separate window. You can right-click and "Save link as…" to download images without having to open them first.

Now that you know the basic methods, let's move on to dirt and fingerprints, but we're not finished with the reflections yet. I will have to remove quite a few more when we start discussing jewelry and watches.

Next: Dirt and fingerprints


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