Something about this isn't quite right. I'm new to photoshop and tried messing around with Transform and Alt+Drag a bit but it still looks a bit off. Any suggestions?

enter image description here

PS.: You can also criticise the image in general. I'm trying to go for a dark environment with a flooded city in the background, where the bottle and what's in it are supposed to be a ray of hope. Any advice is greatly appreciated! !

  • 1
    Look at a real photo of a bottle in sand on a beach like this one - as you can see the shadow is visible through the bottle.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:42
  • 1
    The angle is "off" as well. The shadow looks like a simple, straight-forward, rotated bottle shape when it should be skewed.
    – Scott
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:52
  • 1
    Also, under a cloudy sky, the shadow would be less dark and more blurred.
    – Westside
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:55
  • The above comments are dead on. Additionally, from this viewing angle, the shadow should be much thinner. Also, the sand should not be casting a shadow up onto the bottle. On a side note: I think you have done a good job on the bottle edge transparency, but I would using something like the liquify feature (sparingly) on the sand in the background, following the contours of the glass simulate the glass to defracting light.
    – 13ruce
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 14:40
  • 1
    Not part of the question... but the buildings in the background are far far too sharp for the apparent depth of field displayed by the near-ground effects [clouds/spray/bubbles? hard to tell] The rear of the sand area also feels a bit sharp too, but that might be a side-effect of the buildings being at a confusing distance.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 12:33

2 Answers 2


At first: The shadow of an inserted object cannot be realistic before the object itself and its interaction with the background are generally realistic (or at least seem to be).

The effect of a bottle, which is made of bright uncolored glass, has several parts

  1. Reflected lights as highlights

  2. Reflected environment (=distorted images with reduced opacity)

  3. Refracted (seen through glass) lights as another type of highlights, bright lights can be well visible from nonpredictable directions, because they can walk inside the glass nearly around the bottle without becoming unnoticeably dim

  4. Refracted environment, distorted like seen through a bizarre lens

  5. Glass itself is a little hazy, but its opacity is very low

  6. A shadow is generated because the glass reflects and refracts the light off and also absorbs a little.

  7. Intensified lights somewhere in the environment, interleaved with the shadow, caused by the lens effect and reflection of the glass

  8. On soft platform the bottle makes a dimple due the weight or placing impact

Quite complex, I say! I have seen software (Blender and its commercial multi 1000$ counterparts) which handle this all with 3D and physics modelling, but it's far beyond my skill level and the scope of this answer. In the next example we do only few of them and we rely on fake methods with 2D images.

I have noticed that a photo of a bottle must be adapted to the background. It cannot be made nicely transparent, reflecting, shadow making and background refracting without the final environment photo. (A guru probably could construct a smart enough filter which needs only a new environment image and few slider adjustment to fit perfectly again. We skip it)

Let's start. Have a bottle photo - background already removed, desaturated, fully opaque, but with no adaptation attempts still done. Add it as a layer onto your background image (layer name = Landscape):

enter image description here

Make a copy of the bottle with exaggerated edges. Use Filters > Stylize > Find Edges. Let it have Blending mode = Multiply to remove white. Here it's shifted temporarily a little apart

enter image description here

The bottle can be made transparent with blending mode Hard light. Over 50% brightness areas lighten the background, darker than 50% makes the background darker. A curves layer with "only the next layer"-switch is needed to adjust the effect. Obviously you don't want too much white and definitely not too much darkness

The Edges-only version with reduced opacity adds definition. Insert the original bottle with very low opacity (=normal blending) on the top. They together with the hard light layer are quite plausible bottle:

enter image description here

You need a shadow. Make a copy with the hard light layer + its adjustment layer. With different (darker) adjustment, moving it downwards, distorting (= Edit > Transform > Distort) and blurring (= Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur) little it can be plausible shadow. Blur describes that the light is not fully from one point. It's also an aid. Blur reduces the need of warp the shadow along the bumps of the underlying background, which is skipped here:

enter image description here

Note that the max brightness of the shadow curve is 50% (=no effect). You cannot get good intensified light areas by having brighter curve. It needs curve adjustment to the background and the bottle must be in the layer mask. That's also skipped here => We have no intensified light spots on the background.

As mentioned, the bottle distorts the through seen background including the shadow. We make a merged copy, where the shadow is applied to the background and distort it with liquify.

Duplicate the background image layer and the shadow with its adjustment layer. Merge at first the shadow and its adj layer, then merge the result with the background.

Duplicate the result. You need it as a spare and also otherwise later. Shut the original shadow- and background layers, but do not remove them.

Make a selection which covers the bottle You can Select the emptiness around the bottle with the Magic Wand and invert the selection. Then goto the merged shadow+background layer and start Filters > Liquify:

enter image description here

There is applied Bloat in the middle, Puck at the edges and the bottle is walked around to make it clearly different. This is fully fake distortion, but makes the existence of distortion obvious. Probably you must try several versions until a good one is found. The result:

enter image description here

There's also applied the following tricks:

  • The adjustment curve of the hard light layer is made a little concave. That contrast boost makes the distortion better visible without reducing the brightest highlights.
  • The distorted merged layer is made partially transparent, it reduces the artificiality of the distortion because something original also exists
  • a few spots in the distorted layer are erased because they seemed disturbingly artificial.

NOTE The bottle is placed onto the background without any digging nor other soil moving works. If you need them, you must do them in the beginning. The shadow is more defined than if the sky were fully cloudy. So a little sun glittering would be an useful addition. Here two pieces of glitter is added (Beware, this transforms easily your image to a cartoon):

enter image description here



Also worth mentioning that as said in the first comment, looking at a live photo can help see some other distinct touches needed for realism.

There is one thing I think has been missed in the earlier, excellent comments and answers: there is a diffraction effect called "caustics" in the rendering world, in which a distorted, bright highlight shape results from the intersecting curves of the bottle or glass and the nearly-parallel light rays of the sun passing through. You can imitate this in photoshop with a little work - as simple as painting a white highlight area, liquifying it, and setting that layer to lighten or screen or maybe hard light opacity type.

In this rendered image (yes, mine) you can see the carefully set up caustics from all the bottles and glasses being cast onto the table below.

caustics render

That image is a render from a 3D package I use called modo; there's a light set up which is casting those caustics from the same origin point as the main scene light - I isolated it from the main scene light in order to tune the response to look similar to a reference photo I used. Caustics are a result of diffraction through a curved surface and the fact that parallel rays, as they strike a curve surface, are bent tangent to their incidence angle.

From wikipedia

"In optics, a caustic or caustic network2 is the envelope of light rays reflected or refracted by a curved surface or object, or the projection of that envelope of rays on another surface.3 The caustic is a curve or surface to which each of the light rays is tangent, defining a boundary of an envelope of rays as a curve of concentrated light.3 Therefore, in the adjacent image, the caustics can be the patches of light or their bright edges. These shapes often have cusp singularities."

Here's the wikipedia reference image:

Wikipedia image

You can see how this would be pretty simple to fake by painting a highlight shape with curves, a soft brush, and setting the layer's opacity correctly - and for a quick illustration like the OP's original piece, this approach would suffice nicely.

  • Is the linked image a manual 2D fake or rendered 3D model? If latter, then how the light is defined to cause the light yards below the glasses, but no general lightness all around? Have you a light amplifying material (=a white light laser glass)
    – user82991
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 22:20
  • It's a rendered 3D model in modo. There's a light set to the same coordinates as the primary scene light, and set to the same lumen output, but has its output linked only to caustics contribution and the percentage effector set quite high, to achieve a look directly similar to a reference photo that I used to judge relative intensity of caustics to overall scene lighting. Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 22:34
  • That was interesting. Please add it to the answer because it's useful.
    – user82991
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 22:43

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