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Jul 26, 2016

How to Create Perfect Shadows in Photoshop

How to Create Perfect Shadows in Photoshop

A shadow helps any subject look grounded in its background. This tutorial makes creating the perfect shadow easy and fun!

Shadows are complex, so use many layers.

Shadows can be difficult to create in Photoshop because they are very complex. Shadows start out dark and fade out as they move farther from the object. The easiest way to replicate the complexities of a shadow is by creating multiple layers with multiple shadows and blending them together.

Learn how to use the Gradient Tool and a few layers to create realistic shadows in this episode.

Use the Gradient Tool to Create Shadows

Shadows are darker at their core and fade out as they get farther from the center. You can achieve the same effect using the gradient tool.

Start by selecting the gradient tool and picking the ‘Foreground to Transparent’ gradient in the ‘Gradient Editor’. Next, choose a radial gradient and on a new layer, click-and-drag outwards to create a radial gradient.

Next, transform the gradient by pressing ‘CTRL/CMD + T’. Flatten the radial gradient out and size it accordingly to the object. If needed, change the opacity of the gradient or use the eraser tool to remove excess shadow.

Opacity and Hardness

The areas closer to the object will cast harder, darker shadows and the areas farther will have lighter, softer shadows. To replicate the effect, create different layers with different gradients on them. Move the layers into place to achieve a realistic shadow.

26 Comments


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  • user image
    Hi Arron

    Great shadows tutorial. Any chance you could do a tutorial on advanced colour correction? I was recently tasked to chance the colour of a fabric chair to match the colour perfectly of another fabric chair because it hadn’t been manufactured yet and was needed for the brochure I was working on. I managed to do this eventually but it took a lot of trial and error – there must be a better, more accurate way to match colours accurately? Cheers from Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK!!

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    Matthew Dunivan

    Aaron, This was one of the greatest Plearn tutorials I’ve seen in a long long time. Thank you so much for the info. Is there any chance you could expound on this tutorial and talk about harder shadows with more complexity? Say, a composite with a faux wall behind and a hard light in front of the subject? Thanks again! I really enjoyed this one!

    – MD

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    Luis Souza

    Ok but what about shadows with light not directly from above?
    Generally I’d duplicate that girl, make her black and set her angle depending where the light(s) is(are) then blur her till she looks like a shadow. How would you do that?
    Thanks.
    BTW I love your tutorials, you seem to be a cool guy.
    Later.

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    Dominique

    Hey, that’s cool. But I am a little bit confused as well. Isn’ t the light coming from the left side? Wouldn’ t that mean that the shadows point to the right?
    You draw it the other way around. So could you explain that?

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    Jim Serian

    In analyzing your light source, it would seem to me that you should first find the direction from which the light is coming. Looking at your model, and especially at the reflection of her shoes, the light source is coming from the back, not the front. This means the shadows should go out in front of her and not behind her.

    Also, shadows are cast by ALL solid matter, not just by what touches the ground. Where is the shadow for her body?

    This is a great start for teaching about creating perfect shadows, but it looks like you’ve got a lot more to do before this picture looks real.

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    Don

    I’ve heard that Adobe is working on an Automated Shadow system where if you had a subject it would find subjects and automatically generate the shadows as it would be in real life, a complex rendering system, just like when you work in 3d modeling program that renders everything..
    which is real neat it would be cool to have that save you time and it would be 100% accurate..

  • user image
    Shai

    Thanks for another great episode. how about making more complex shadows from different angles? and reflections as well 🙂

  • user image
    maec

    I like your approach with it’s realism and subtlety. What do you do when the shadows need to be more elaborate and formed-say the shadow of a bent leg or a flowing dress. Do you use gradient tools in conjunctions with transformed drop shadow layers?

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    Angelo van der Klift

    For these kind of objects it is a great tutorial. Thanks Aaron.
    This technique will not work (well) with complex shadows though.

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    john C.

    Great tutorial using the gradient tool for a drop shadow. I would like to see a tutorial for making a drop shadow for an entire object…. like a car image. Would you still use the gradient tool or a different method for creating the drop shadow? How would you alter the image’s shadow shape, perspective & angle to fit the image realistically? What tools would you use?
    Could you please do a tutorial for this or provide a link if a tutorial already exists on this subject.

    Love and watch all your wonderful and very informative tutorials…they are the best!

  • user image
    Arthur K.

    I just love your tutorials. With them, everything is easy and possible 🙂

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    Roger A.Estep

    Aaron I have learn so much from you. I have to ask you in the perfect shadow, is the shadows going the wrong way? Your light is coming from the left and your shadow is going to the left? Keep sending us great tutorials.

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    Jim Schoonover

    Great tutorial as always Aaron. I usually watch your You Tube channel from my smart TV and that app does not have a comment option. I noticed that you selected a color from inside the model’s shoe (almost black) and it worked well on a white “floor”. When I have the subject placed on grass or brown wood etc. can you use your same technique by adding a curve using your radial gradient as a mask and then applying the curve on the background layer under the subject? That way the shadow will have a realistic color because a shadow basically is the background darkened by the subject. This would probably add more steps but is it feasible?

  • user image
    Betsy

    I love these tutorials but I sure wish there was some way to copy and print the instructions. I’ve tried copy and paste (too light) and I can’t find any other way. Anyone have any hints?

    • user image
      Dick

      Mac has a Utility called Grab that will copy anything. Give it a try for copying the instructions. (Don’t know if PC has a similar Utility.)

    • user image
      Cindy

      Just highlight the instructions on the webpage, hit CTRL + C to copy, go to a Word document and paste (CTRL+ V), highlight the entire light gray text in this document (CTRL+ A), and then change the highlighted font to black as you would change the font color for any Word document.

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    Ali Drew

    This is an awesome tutorial. It’s totally changed how I do shadows in my composites and they’re so much easier and more believable now. Thank You!!!