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I want to create a water refraction effect that can overlay an image. I'm using Photoshop and have tried a variety of filters with no luck. I'm not very familiar with Photoshop effects, so any help is appreciated. Here's an image with the desired effect. enter image description here

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  • This looks like one of more overlays of drapes or other similar material set to screen so only the highlights show up. Commented Mar 15 at 14:08
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    That is not refraction directly. Those are light rays that are produced by caustics (produced by refraction).
    – Rafael
    Commented Mar 15 at 16:13
  • This is unlikely to be something you could achieve with a filter. You could try a net curtain texture, in overlay mode, with reduced layer opacity as a starting point.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Mar 15 at 17:12
  • I think before we go down the rabbit hole of techniques and clicks, we should refine what you mean and are looking for: refraction per se most commonly causes the appearance of ‘bending’ of an item partially seen through water, partially through air. Caustics are the small bright wave / cell shapes on the bottom of water bodies caused by refractional lensing from the surface wavelets. Neither are “click-a-single-button” results. Which are you trying to create here? Commented Mar 15 at 20:35

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Wavelets in the surface could project sunlight so that there's apparent light beams in the water when microscopic particles in the water scatter the light. The light could also be emitted downwards by strong lamps. We can see something resembling also in the air in a foggy weather when car lights make visible beams. Or when the sun is behind thick clouds which have holes. In such conditions we can see the ecumenical light from the sky common in religional paintings.

But the rays in your image are not light beams because they are not straight. Light takes curved route only in non-homogeneous medium or under black hole grade gravitation. I guess your light beams are actually a partially transparent curtain made of some thin veil or gauze.

Your image has no color. The graininess suggests that the maker of the photo has worked a while in the darkroom to compensate the contrast loss caused by the curtain. We can try to imitate it.

This is a BW photo. It's taken from an ad of commercial diver training and desaturated:

enter image description here

The 2nd layer has got a grey curtain. It's not a photo, because I do not have one. It's only a low quality fake that I made for this, but I guess it's good enough to show the idea. A proper photo would be better. The contrast is adjusted so that the average brightness is 50% and there's nothing full black nor full white.

The opacity of the curtain is reduced to 44%:

enter image description here

The diver can be seen, but the contrast is poor. For "finer presentation" I inserted a curves layer to increase the contrast:

enter image description here One effect of the curtain material is still missing. My curtain layer doesn't make the photo below unsharp. It could be simulated with a noisy displacement map, but I skip it.

In old times increasing the contrast afterwards in the darkroom made the photo easily grainy. It's simulated by adding a grainy layer. It's a 50% solid grey layer which has got grain effect:

enter image description here

The blending mode is hard light and the transparency is reduced. As separated the grain layer is this:

enter image description here

As said above this is still too clean. The curtain doesn't make the diver unsharp. And the curtain resembles too much a piece of fabric.

The diver can be made unsharp in Photoshop with Tiny Lens distortion effect:

enter image description here

This curtain is at least unnatural.

enter image description here

It's a negative which turns dark shadows to lights and there's a massive amount of noise. It's still a fake. But it resembles a piece of glossy plastic

Making this partially transparent allows the diver to be seen, but the contrast is poor:

enter image description here

A curves layer restores the contrast and lifts up the graininess. Now it's at least as detoriated as your example:

enter image description here

I have started to suspect that you actually want the rays to a color photo without heavy noise and unsharpness shown aboveand the rays should be straight without a hint "it's a curtain".

One easy way to make complex, but straight rays is to extrude them in Illustrator:

enter image description here

It started as a black straight line. The line is distorted with the wrinkle tool. Its color is changed to light grey and it's stretched vertically by adding legacy 3D effect Bevel& Emboss. It's still a curtain, but much more regular than the attempts I used above.

In the next image it's copied and pasted to Photoshop and distorted to look to spread downwards. The bottom edge is dragged wider with Edit > Transform > Perspective (or Distort):

enter image description here

Making it partially transparent and compensating the contrast loss with curves cannot be used with color because the colors would be distorted badly. One possibility is to move the rays to the bottom and to change the blending mode of the photo layer to Hard Light:

enter image description here

This method has an accidental advantage: A part of the light looks like it's behind the diver. The effect is not especially strong, because the opacity of the bottom layer is reduced to 23%. Lifting the bottom layer opacity to 40% gives this:

enter image description here

This is too much. It demands something natural looking to make it more plausible. One possibility is to add grain to present particles in the water. Unfortunately adding noise is not the way. The particles must be small, but far less dense than what's got by adding noise. Fortunately the noise can be sparsened by tresholding:

enter image description here

The sharpest light beams are faded by adding 1px Gaussian blur.

The particles are masked so that they occur only in the light beams. This is my particle layer in the bottom as separated:

enter image description here

The layer mask is a copy of the light beams, but with increased contrast.

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  • My answer was initially only to complement yours... only for the shape of the rays. And it escalated quickly n_n
    – Rafael
    Commented Mar 16 at 23:01
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    @Rafael I drew floating pieces of partially transparent fabric + noise. You drew light. I have inserted an attempt to do it, too. Commented Mar 17 at 16:24
  • In your last update, I would make a shadow on the rays below the person. A cone of shadow.
    – Rafael
    Commented Mar 28 at 20:36
  • @Rafael The possibility of that problem is notified. There's a workaround: No seabed visible below the diver. The blending mode kills those rays which somehow could be imagined to be at the same place as the dark bottom side of the diver. The contradiction occurs only below the right hand elbow which harmfully is not dark enough, but I guessed it will be noticed only by professionals who have a trained bug eye.. Commented Apr 2 at 15:18
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This answer escalated really fast.

Caustics is a really complex light projection where light is focused and dispersed depending on the waves of the surface.

This "density" in the light is not flat, so we need to use the "Mesh gradient tool".

I did not make this on Ps but in Corel Draw, but you just follow the concepts.

A. Get the Mesh tool and use 5 nodes. Assign colors similar to the sample B Note that the ones on the bottom are darker (less light) C.

enter image description here

Change them to trapezoidal shapes D.


E. We can not use them like that. We need to use the Add blending mode and play with the transparency of the layer F. If you intersect some rays you start to get a caustics effect.

enter image description here

G is too chaotic, so I'm using on this case concentric rays.

enter image description here

This is not so bad.


But now let's get risky. Let me project the caustics on the girl.

Take a copy of your image I contrast it a lot J and convert this as a mask. Invert it and apply it on a new layer of your image. Here K is what is transparent and what is not.

enter image description here

Take an image of real caustics L, and sandwich it between the layers M, using add blending mode only on the caustics layer L not in the layer K.

N We are almost done.

enter image description here

And now let's add some noise...

enter image description here

Nice.


Here is another method to make the "rays" layer. try to combine both techniques.

Draw some random dots over a black background

enter image description here

Use a Zoom blur, apply it twice and increase the contrast.

enter image description here

Use this as a new layer. I used two of them with some transparency with the "add" blending mode. When two rays intersect make a bit of a caustic effect.

But this could look either caustics or rays through the woods. Experiment.

enter image description here

This example has the two types of rays, the zoom and the meshes. By combining them we denote a more "disturbed" water surface.

enter image description here

Perfect.


In my examples, the rays are straight. They should be in slightly different directions but they should not be curved.

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