Mirroring a background is a neat little Photoshop trick that can come in really handy. I have used this method to remove unwanted parts of an image, or to just add some interest to a photo.
With a powerful tool like Photoshop, there is always more than one way to do things, but this is the way I most often flip or mirror a background in Photoshop.
Easy to Follow Steps to Mirror a Background
As a photographer, one of the essential skills to learn is how to flip an image background in Photoshop. With simple steps, you can create interesting patterns, designs, and effects by rotating, flipping, or mirroring images. Here’s how to mirror vertical and horizontal images.
Open Image in Photoshop
Before anything else, open the image you need to flip or mirror in Photoshop. To do this, go to the top menu bar and select File > Open. Select the image file from your computer and click Open.
Crop the Image If Necessary
Crop away any areas of the image you don’t need for the flip or mirror effect. In general, you’ll want to crop in tight around the subject, removing any surrounding areas of the detail that won’t make the final result look natural.
To crop, select the Crop Tool from the Toolbar along the left side of the screen. Be sure to check the Delete Cropped Pixels in the Options Bar.
With the Crop Tool selected, press and drag out a cropping border around the area you want to retain. Press Enter or Return when you’re ready to crop the image.
Duplicate the Background Layer
When you look in the Layers panel, you’ll see that the image is sitting on the Background layer. Go to Layer, then click Duplicate Layer. Name the new layer as “Mirror” and press OK.
By default, Photoshop locks the Background layer, as indicated by the lock icon. Since this means that the software won’t let you flip or move the image around, you simply have to unlock the Background layer by double-clicking on the layer’s name.
If needed, I use this layer to clone out any distractions or objects I may not want in my final image.
Adjust the Width of the Canvas
Next, you need to add more canvas space on the image to make room for the background you will flip. For that, you need to go to the Image menu in the Menu Bar and choose Canvas Size for your image.
In the Canvas Size dialog box, make sure to check the Relative option. Set the width and height depending on the extra space you need.
To force the extra canvas size space to the right of the image, select the center square in the Anchor grid. Click OK and close the dialog box. Photoshop will fill the extra canvas space with white.
Drag Image to One Side of the Guide
After adding an extra canvas size space, you must drag the copy of the image on the Background copy layer into the new layer area. Be sure to select the Background copy layer in the Layers panel before doing the following process.
First, unclick the Eye Icon next to the layer to show the duplicate layer again.
Press down the Shift key, then click on the image and drag it over the right side of the original image. Doing this helps limit the direction you can move, making it easy to drag straight across.
Lower the opacity of the background copy to around 50% to see where to place the new background. To create the effect, use the Move tool from the Toolbar and drag everything you want to flip or mirror over to the same side with the move tool.
This will serve as the flip point for the mirror image effect. For every change you make on one side of the vertical guide, Photoshop mirrors it on the other side. Make sure to raise the opacity back up to 100%.
Flip the Background Copy
While you’ve selected the entire image, what you really need to flip the image is the background copy you made.
You can do the first flip or mirror effect by flipping the image in Photoshop on the right vertically, so it appears as a reflection of the one on the left. This means you need to reshape or transform the selection out.
Use Photoshop’s Transform Selection Command
To do this, go to the Edit > Transform menu at the top of the screen. Select Transform and then choose Flip Vertical (or Flip Horizontal, depending on the effect you want to achieve). Likewise, you can press Ctrl + T or Command + T to select the Free Transform from the keyboard.
Set Up the Reference Point
Once the Free Transform box and handles appear around the layer’s contents, you should see a little target icon in the center of the box. That’s the transformation reference point, which refers to the point around where the transformation will take place.
If you do not see the reference point, go up to the Options Bar and press the Toggle Reference Point checkbox. Afterward, click on the reference point and drag it left or right so that it snaps into place over the handle that’s on the same side as your guide.
Flip the Image Horizontally or Vertically
With the Free Transform Command still active, right-click or control-click inside the Free Transform box, and choose Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical from the menu. Voilà! — the image in Photoshop on the right instantly becomes a flip or mirror reflection of the image on the left. As you can see, it’s really simple to flip horizontal and vertical images.
Once you’re happy with the flip image transformation, close out the Free Transform by pressing Enter or Return on your keyboard. Additionally, you won’t need the guide anymore, so go to the View menu and choose Clear Guides to remove it.
Add a Layer Mask
Select the copy of the image’s background layer and then add a layer mask by clicking on the white rectangle with a circle in the middle at the bottom of your layers panel palette, circled in red below.
Invert the mask by clicking (Command I on Mac) or (Control I on PC). Your mask will turn black (circled in blue above), and your mirror image in Photoshop will now look like the original image.
Inverting the mask hides the layer we just added, and allows us to “paint on” the new layer that’s been flipped only where we want it.
Brush on Areas
Before painting on anything, press on the little arrows next to the foreground box to switch between black and white. Then, select the brush tool from the Toolbar. To paint on the new layer, use a white brush (B) to paint on the new layer, flipped where you want it.
Bring the mouse cursor over the image in Photoshop and start painting on the areas where you want to flip or mirror an image in Photoshop to show through. Make sure you are painting on the layer mask, and not on the actual layer.
If you’re painting close to the subject, raise the hardness of the brush to around 30%. Then, lower the opacity of the brush to around 60%. Gradually paint around the subject until you blend everything naturally.
With Layer Masks, a trick to understanding which color to use is: White reveals, Black conceals.
Use a black brush to correct any parts that you want to “unpaint.”
*Note: If you are confused about which color to use, remember that by inverting the layer, we made the mask black, hiding the new layer (black conceals). To bring back the parts of that layer that we want, we will paint them on using a white brush (white reveals). The white brush is revealing our flipped, duplicated layer in the places we need it.
Blur Parts of the Background
You can also make some adjustments to the background to make the edited image more believable. To do this, you have to add a bit of blur to the background layer.
Go to the top menu bar and select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. In the Gaussian Blur window, set a Radius of up to 5 Pixels and click OK. This should help blur the background layer in Photoshop.
Flatten the Image
To finalize the image in Photoshop, go to Layer-Flatten Image, and then Save. Use the Patch or Clone Stamp Tool to clear up any other distractions or areas that look obviously mirrored.
Experiment With Layer Blend Modes
This part is optional and depends on your taste. If you want to blend the top layer in with the layers below it, you can do that by changing the layer’s Blend Mode.
You can find the Blend Mode option in the upper left of the Layers panel. From the default Normal mode on the Layers panel, you can change it to other modes. Here are some that work well for a mirrored image in Photoshop:
- Multiply: Does a great job of blending the images yet has a darkening effect on photos.
- Darken: Turns the result colors darker. Anything white in the blend layer in Photoshop will be invisible, while anything darker than white will have some darkening effect on the pixels below it.
- Lighten: Makes the overall image brighter by comparing the selected layer’s pixels with those on the layers below it.
- Screen: Produces several different levels of brightening depending on the blend layer’s luminosity values. Although the resulting color is usually brighter.
- Overlay: Combines Multiply and Screen, depending on the base color. It also uses the Screen Blending Mode at half strength on colors lighter than 50% gray.
- Difference: Looks for differences between the layer and the layers below it, then displays those differences as different colors.
- Exclusion: Gives a psychedelic vibe by creating an effect similar to the Difference mode, yet lower in contrast.
Bonus: Create an Action
Although this effect is very easy to execute, you can make a Photoshop Action of it, so that all you need to do is to click a button every time you need to mirror an image or a background.
Open the image in Photoshop and click on the Create New Action icon in the Actions Panel to record the steps.
If you’re satisfied with the initial action settings, click on the Record button. When you click on this button, Photoshop will record everything you do as part of the action.
A small button on the Actions panel should change to a red dot to inform you that you’re recording. Perform the steps on how to mirror an image background. After recording, click on the Stop Playing/Recording video.
The software will save the action, and you can view it in the Actions panel.
Select the action from the Actions panel and then click on the small grey Play Button at the bottom. In this way, you can repeat the mirror background effect on any image automatically.
If you’d like to follow along with me as I make this edit, check out this video below where I walk you through the process of how to mirror a background in Photoshop step by step.
We love to hear your questions! If you have any, please leave them in the comments!