Adding shadows to your photo is vital to grounding an object in a scene when you are making a composite image.
In this article you’ll see how to make a shadow in Adobe Photoshop. Both to a white background photo, and a natural landscape scene.
Let’s get started with this simple Photoshop tutorial.
How to Add Shadows in Photoshop When the Background Is White
A blank white canvas is the easiest place to begin if you want to add a simple shadow effect. And you can practice the basic steps needed for creating realistic shadows.
White backgrounds are very typical of product photography. But these images don’t contain shadows when photographed in a light box.
Here you’re going to see how to make a nice soft shadow. Not a hard shadow like you’d get from a direct strobe flash.
Create a Drop Shadow
The first step here is to create a drop shadow. This is a fairly straight forward task.
- The first step is to import your image into a blank Photoshop document. In this Photoshop document you’ll want a white background layer, and a layer to place your object. You’ll need to have cut out your object from another picture. This should be easier if you have a product photo already taken against a white background.
- In the layer with your object, click the fx tab in the layer menu. Find this in the bottom right of your screen. Select the option to create a drop shadow. This is at the bottom of the fx menu bar.
- You can now manipulate this shadow. You can change the shadow colour (default is black), and the opacity, angle, size and distance.
The drop shadow needs to be stretched out, so it appears to be a cast shadow.
Making the Shadow More Realistic
The next step is changing that shadow into a realistic cast shadow. Use the following steps to make this happen.
- Change the drop shadow into a new layer. Now you can manipulate it on its own. There is now an fx symbol in the layer tab. Right click on this, and you’ll see a new menu. Third from the bottom, you’ll find the options to create layers. Select this and now you have decoupled the drop shadow.
- Now you’ll want to change the direction of the shadow. To do this use the menu at the top of the screen. Hit Edit>transform>skew. Use the top two anchor points to drag the shadow out. In this example I will drag the shadow to the right. You can adjust how much you want the shadow to come from the side. In this case I’ll drag to around 45 degrees.
- The shadow is now very long, so you can adjust this as well. Go to Edit>transform>scale. You’ll now be able to adjust the length of the shadow by dragging the top anchor up or down. In this case the shadow length has been shortened.
- Finally you’ll need to warp the shadow so it still fits with the object that is casting it. You’ll need to ensure that the base of the shadow is still in contact with the base of the object. Edit>transform>warp. Use the anchor points to make sure the shadow is in the correct position.
The final image shows a gradation within the shadow.
- This shadow should be stronger near the base, and more diffused, lighter near the top. You’ll need to create a second shadow layer. Select your shadow layer and go to Layer>duplicate layer. You now have a second shadow layer.
- The first step is to adjust the strength of the shadow. To do this you simply need to adjust the fill strength of the layer. The fill tab can be found in the layers menu. Adjust the dark shadow layer to around 90% and the light shadow layer to around 40%. Deselect the eye icon to the left of the layer. You can see the strength of the shadow cast by the alternate shadow layer.
- Now, adjust the sharpness of the shadow. It should be more diffuse the further away from the object it becomes. To do this you’ll need to add a Gaussian blur. To apply this effect go to filters>blur>Gaussian blur. The light shadow layer should have pixel radius of around 25, and the dark shadow layer around 5. You can make the shadow sharper or more diffused by adjusting the pixel radius to your liking.
- The final task is applying gradation so that your shadow goes from darker to lighter in a seamless transition. Apply a white layer mask to your dark shadow layer. Now select the gradation tool on the left hand menu. Ensure you have background set to white, and foreground set to black. Select a point around halfway up through the shadow, and drag the gradation back through the object casting the shadow. The more graduated you want this, the longer the line needs to be. Now drag your layer mask onto the light shadows layer, achieved by pressing option while dragging the layer. To finish up, invert this layer, and you have the final result.
In this scene you’ll need to adjust the size of the model who has been pasted in from another photo.
How to Create a Shadow in a Landscape Scene
Look for the Light Source
Compositing an image into a scene that has natural light needs care and attention. One of the most important aspects is adding a shadow to go with the composite image.
To do this you’ll need to see where existing shadows in your scene fall. That means looking at objects within your scene to find out where the light is coming from.
You’ll also want to make sure your shadow matches the colour caste of other shadows within your scene.
In the scene chosen for this tutorial the light is in front of the camera. It has also been diffused by the bamboo forest.
Paste Your Object Into the Scene
Our object is a person. This person has been cut out of a photo taken on the same day as this photo. The light on the model will be consistent with the rest of the scene. But we need to add the shadow.
- Create a new layer and then paste the person into the scene.
- The first problem is the size of the model. She needs to be made smaller to fit into this scene. To do this go to edit>free transform. Now use the anchor points to reduce the size of the model. Hold the shift key down to keep everything in proportion. In this example, I used the fence as a point of reference for the model’s height.
- Place the model on the path by using the move tool, found in the top left menu bar.
Use objects within the photo to work out the size the model needs to be.
Shape Your Shadow
- Repeat the three steps described above to create a drop shadow from your model. This will once again be a hard shadow, and will look unnatural. There are no shadows in this scene. But if you have a picture with existing shadows, use their colour when creating a new one. Use the dropper tool for this.
- Now grab your shadow layer, and use the free transform tool. This time you’ll want to bring the shadow forward, as the main light source is coming from behind the bamboo forest. Grab the top anchor and drag it forward, and then lengthen the shadow to your liking.
In this photo I’m keeping the shadow within the frame, and pushing it slightly to the left. To alter the angle of the shadow go to edit>transform>skew.
You may once again need to use the warp function within transform to make sure the shadow is still connected to the model.
Create your shadow, and position it within the photo.
Soften the Shadow
You now need to soften the shadow. Use the same procedure as before. Follow steps 1-4 in the “finishing touches” section of this article.
The key difference here is that the shadow is going to be more diffused for this photo. In the darker shadow the pixel radius of the Gausian blur is set to 25, and the lighter shadow is set to 50.
The final image shows a nice diffuse shadow behind the model in the photo.
You can use Photoshop to achieve a lot of different effects. And there are alternative methods out there for creating shadows.
Have you ever tried creating your own shadow in Photoshop? What was your workflow like?
If you’re new to this technique, I hope you’ll enjoy this, and try it yourself. As always please leave your thoughts, and any pictures you have in the comments section.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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