How To 

How To Apply A Displacement Map In A Photoshop Project

To illustrate how to use a displacement map with an image, this tutorial will take the map we created in the “How To Create A Water Displacement Map” tutorial and apply it to the image we created in the “Wave Filter” tutorial. With a displacement map, we’ll be able to better sell the sense that the subject in this project is emerging from a body of water.

1. Open the Gaussian Blur filter.
With the layer of the image’s reflection selected, we’ll begin by applying a gaussian blur to remove some of its clarity of detail. To open the Gaussian blur dialog box, simply select “Filter > Blur > Gaussian Noise…”.

2. Adjust the Gaussian Blur parameters.
We want to better recreate the cloudiness of a water’s surface but we still want to maintain a good amount of detail, so we’ll adjust the blur radius to something fairly low at 5.4 pixels. With this set, we’ll hit “OK”.

3. Open the Displace filter.
This is where all of the hard work in creating a displacement map finally pays off. To start, we’ll open the dialog box by clicking “Filter > Distort > Displace…”

4. Adjust the Displace parameters.
The Horizontal and Vertical Scales here denote the level of distortion created by a displacement map. Like we noted in the Wave filter tutorial, most of the distortion here needs to occur on the horizontal plane, so we’ll make the Vertical Scale setting four times as intense as the Horizontal. Since our displacement map is a different size, we’ll obviously hit the “Stretch To Fit” option (“Tile” works better with maps that are strictly textural). We’re going to go with the “Repeat Edge Pixels” option for undefined areas, which will repeat the color of pixels around the perimeter of the selection instead of simply repeating the image. With everything good, we’ll hit “OK”.

5. Select your displacement map.
From here, we can select any .psd file to apply as a displacement map to our image. For this tutorial, will be using the water map we created for this specific situation. Once it’s selected, we’ll click “Open”.

6. Add a gradient layer to the image.
With the mask applied, the water effect is already looking really good. We’re going to take it a step further by adding a subtle gradient to the reflection line. To do this, we’ll start by clicking the “New Layer” icon in the bottom right corner of our Layers panel. With this new layer selected, we’ll then open the Gradient tool by hitting the “G” key. In the option bar, we’ll select the “Black, White” swatch from the “Gradient picker” dropdown menu and then click the “Reflected Gradient” button. With everything set, we’ll drag a small line across the reflection point, holding shift to make it completely vertical.

7. Adjust the gradient layer’s blend mode and opacity.
The new gradient should appear as a small black bar where the reflection line sits in the layer below. To incorporate this into the image, we’ll select the “Multiply” blend mode and set the Opacity to something fairly low so that it hits as subtly as possible.