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Photoshop Tips: Adding Moonlight Reflection on Water

This month, we’re working on changing a few aspects of a wonderful photograph of moon over water.  The original photograph was taken just before the moon rose high enough over the water.

I was on assignment for Chatter Magazine, photographing a beautiful castle here in the Chattanooga area.  The castle was high on a bluff over looking Chickamauga Lake.  As I was photographing the back of the castle, I noticed that the moon was just rising over the Lake.  Due to time constraints, I couldn’t wait until the moon rose high enough.   If I had time, I would have done a time-lapse image — getting the landscape bright enough, and then merging the 2 photographs.

Happily, Photoshop enables us to mimic the time-lapse with layers and a great filter called “rendering, lighting effects”.  These techniques were used with Photoshop CS 5.5, but you could do it with earlier versions.

First, the original photograph was color corrected in Camera RAW:

Original RAW Image

color corrected RAW image

Then I copied the moon onto its own layer, deleted the existing moon over the mountains, and added a layer style of “outer glow”,  to the moon to make it look more realistic, tweaking the settings until I liked the results.

After moving the moon higher over the horizon

The challenge was to create the moonlight reflection in the water without making it look fake.  I then created a new duplicate layer, and opened “filters” and then chose “lighting effects”.

By tweaking the points around the light, I was able to create a fairly realistic moonlight reflection.  However, I wasn’t done.  This kind of filter rendered the rest of the image very dark.

I wanted the moonlight reflection a little brighter, so I added an adjusted layer, and brightened the spotlight.

I then moved the original image layer on top of this filtered layer, added a layer mask, and then brought back all the original image with a brush — putting together the two different images.

And voila!  I now have a beautiful picture of the moon and its light reflection over water.

Moonlight over Water Final Image


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