Photoshop tutorial: Make a realistic crystal ball in Photoshop

Learn how to deal with shiny surfaces, refractions and curves, with some handy pointers from Photoshop guru Mark Mayers.

Although this image appears pretty simple at first glance, if you look a little closer you’ll see that it’s full of potential graphics stumbling points, such as the refraction of the hand and the buildings that appear upside-down when viewed through the glass ball – and that’s before you’ve even started trying to deal with the reflection of the sky on the curved surface of the ball.

In this tutorial, Mark Mayers guides you step-by-step through some ways to use Adobe Photoshop’s filters, distortion and polar coordinates – along with opacity and blending modes – to pull off this complicated effect.

Step 1
Download the project files from the right, and also select some photographs of skies and buildings to work with. Here, I’ve used stock photos of a blue sky, an evening sky, and a skyscraper, which I bought Large versions of from Alternatively, use your own photography. Open the last of these three images in Photoshop and isolate the buildings with a closed path. Make a path-based selection and then copy to the clipboard.

Step 2
In Photoshop, create a new A3 landscape document in RGB mode with a resolution of 300dpi. Paste the buildings into the document as a new layer and transform as shown. Next, open the two sky images and drag and drop both into your working file beneath the building, with the orange sky uppermost and the blending mode set to Screen. Transform each sky layer and create a dramatic central area of cloud formation.

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