Learn How to Create Proper Shadows in Photoshop

If you ever do any sort of composite work, chances are that you'll need to add shadows. They're one of the biggest aspects of making a composite image convincing, and yet, they're also very subtle and tricky to pull off. Phlearn is here with a great tutorial to get you started.

I'm sure you've seen bad composites in which the shadows just aren't right or they're nonexistent. It makes a person look like a cardboard cutout propped up on the ground, or worse, it makes them look as if they're floating. Part of the trick is understanding that not all shadows are the same, and thus, there is no one size fits all way of creating them. A lot of creating a convincing effect relies on being able to read the light in an image: there's a correspondence between the type of light used and the type of shadows cast. Be sure to notice how Aaron Nace samples the color from from other shadows of the image instead of using straight black and how he uses multiple layers and gradients to build up the effect. Using a single gradient and layer simply won't work in this case. Check out Phlearn's YouTube page for more!

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Daaaamn Aaron! 4 posts on fstoppers in 4 days! 3 from the same writer!

This one just came out; it's a great thing to know how to do.

Haha just being a smartass! I agree with you. Probably one of the things people forget the most in their composites. Including me.

Havent seen the video yet, will in a bit, but from the video picture, it is really wrong! The light obviously comes from left in a very strong way, there is a very strong gradient of shadows from right to left, but the shadow on the button is as if the light is coming from top.

Still, I will watch the video. I love Aaron videos, they are funny, and many times you get something out of them, even he does something I dont like.

There are two lights in the image. One from the front slightly camera left and one from the back camera right that looks a little stronger and is aiming downward. These shadows, while not perfect work really well in my opinion. He made the darker shadows push left and a little harder which makes sense with the light coming from the back and the more diffused shadow from the front light should probably push back a little more but I don't think any random person that doesn't have any lighting knowledge would realize it.

Well, on the button, if you see the ankles that the light is very different to what you get on top. There, the top light is not making a difference. It is the side light. Also if you check the farthest to the right foot you will see that it is mostly on shadows, but the shadow beneath it doesn't match it. There is no justification, specially for someone who is a retoucher.

Y agree that people will not be able to describe as I did, but they will feel that something strange happens in the picture. They won be able to point at it as me or you could, but they will feel something strange. Still, the technique is valid, and I love Aaron videos, I follow him and have learned a lot, but many times I see him doing things like this and feel like they are so wrong and shouldn't be done by a retoucher. Still, I like what he did and would use it on certain cases, but not like this one. I bookmarked it for later use, when I have a case that needs it.

That's what happens when you make super helpful pro-level Photoshop tutorials!