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Sally Jane Photographic Art

Adobe Photoshop Tutorial


Photoshop Techniques - Shadows 1

When you cutout a subject from it's original background and you add it to another image, unless you create a shadow it will always look like it is floating. In some cases that may be fine but if you want to make the object look like it is sitting on a surface and belongs there you need to add a convincing shadow. Like with many thing in Photoshops there is more than one way to do this correctly and there are also ways I regularly see that are very incorrect. The type of shadow you will need to add will depend on the image you have to work with. You will have to replicate the shadow that was originally cast by your object when it was photographed. Anything else will look at best odd or worst just plain ridiculous.

The image I will use for this example is the image I created when I explained the Extract feature. A pair of walking boots that were photographed outside on a dull day.


I have simply placed them on a white background but as you can see, they don't look like they belong there because they are just floating. By giving them a shadow we will create the appearance of them sitting firmly on the ground which is where boots should be after all.

Before we start we need to examine the light. Notice that the shadows on the boots themselves are very soft. In fact, they are barely noticeable. Notice too the direction of the shadows. As I have already mentioned this image was shot outside on a dull day so the light was diffused and not very strong. If there is any direction for the light source it is above and slightly to the left of this image. Better still would be to refer back to the original image to see exactly where the shadows fell on the ground.

shadowsNow you can see they are very small and only effect the ground immediately beneath the boots fading very quickly to nothing. This is a very simply shadow to replicate.

OK, so hands up how many of you are tempted to reach for the Drop Shadow effect in the Layers Pallet? Come on, I know you are out there because I've seen the results on flickr unteen times. Lets see what that will do.



For those of you that are innocent of this faux pas because you haven't discovered the Drop Shadow feature yet it is an effect that can be applied to layers and it lives at the bottom of the Layers pallet marked by an icon that looks like a fancy 'f' in Photoshop cs/cs2 but 'fx' in cs3. See image left. Clicking on Drop Shadow will bring up a window were you can specify the settings for the shadow. I am going to add quite a large shadow to my boots to show you why this simply doesn't work.


As you can see, the shadow has been applied evenly all the way around and looks nothing like the original shadow. If anything, rather than making the image look more 3D and believable it has cause the boots to look extremely 2 dimensional like they are a card board cutout. It doesn't matter how much you fiddle around with the settings for this it will never look right. the Drop Shadow is great for adding shadows to text or to frames but hopeless for anything like this. The only way to create an effective shadow in this case is to paint one in. Sounds scary doesn't it. Not really. As I said before, this is a simple shadow, we'll get onto the tricky stuff in a separate tutorial.


Undo or delete your Drop Shadow effect. Now create a new empty layer between your subject, in this case my boots, and the background. This is where you will be painting your shadow. Select the brush tool from the Tools pallet. Choose a large brush with a fully soft edge and opacity set to 100%. For this image I used a brush that was over 400 pixels in diameter. The larger the brush the softer the edge will be and for this, that is what is important. Check back to your original image with the background in to refresh your memory of what you are trying to achieve. Now, take a deep breath and simply paint underneath the boot. When I say underneath the boot I mean start behind it so you can't see it and gradually work to the edge so it just starts to become visible. You don't need too much showing for this shadow. If you get it wrong, undo it by going back a step in your History pallet and try again. You might think your shadow is too dark but don't worry about that at this stage and don't be tempted to adjust the opacity or flow of your brush. When you have finished you can adjust the strength of the shadow by reducing the opacity of the layer in the Layers Pallet.


Here you can see my boots with the shadow painted. The circle represents my brush size. Below is just the shadow and background layer with the boots layer turned off so you can see exactly where I have painted.


Even though the opacity of my brush was 100% and the layer is still at 100% I think the shadow strength is about right here. It doesn't look completely black because the brush was so soft. I still have the laces to do though and they will need to have a fainter shadow. If I paint them on this same layer they will be the same strength. I want to be able to control them separately so I'll create a new layer for them. This time I'll use a slightly smaller brush too.


Once I have painted the laces shadow in I can fade it by reducing the opacity of the layer in the Layers Pallet. Now you have a shadow that looks convincing and the boots look like they belong there.



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