Jan 09, 2012

The Secret to Creating Shadows in Photoshop

How to calculate light in shadows

Creating realistic Shadows in Photoshop really is about the hardest thing you can do. The reason for this, is that there is so much more going on than what most people think about. In today’s episode, I am going to shed some Light on what needs to be done to create perfect Composites.

Today’s Episode Timeline

  • 0:32 – Announcing Amelia’s Move & what that means for you
  • 1:00 – Announcing the Winners from last week’s contest!
  • 3:00 – The secret that no one thinks about when doing Composites
  • 4:20 – Showing Light bouncing back and forth
  • 6:20 – Why this contest is going to benefit you
  • 7:30 – Adding a bit more to the mushroom
  • 8:50 – Fixing Exposure and Color
  • 10:10 – Taking the Light and Color from the mushroom
  • 16:20 – Adding Depth to the Shadow
  • 19:30 – EPISODE PUMP UP

Last Week’s Contest Winner

Lets us know which Phlearn PRO Photoshop Tutorial you would like!

  • Ian– Resolutions bar – workout equipment first 2 weeks, alcohol the rest of the year.
  • Tia– Took amazing initiative, and has already contacted photographers to work with.
  • Elaine– Love What You Do!
  • Reem– Wants to make out with Adam Levine
  • Jason – Great slides and a very clear idea of what he will do

This Week’s Contest

Use THESE images to create a realistic Composite. Remember the Shadows, light, and Color all play back and forth. Submit your JPG in a comment for a chance to win! If you can do this, you can do just about any Composite in Photoshop. The contest is open until next Monday at 12PM CST.

5 People will each win 2 PRO photoshop tutorials.

Here are the download files, I can’t wait to see your composites!

Here is my .PSD if you want to go through it. About 1.5 hrs into it.


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(will not be published)

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    Jenna Petrone

    Thank you Aaron!  Making accurate shadows wasn’t even thought in my Computer Imaging class last year. I’m glad that you made a video on it because shadows is something that I need to improve on. I wrote down some notes and I will try it myself sometime soon. : )

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        Nick Bedford

        Now just to find some spare time!

        I’m going to examine the depth of field in relation to the fairy as well. It may need a very slight blur toward the feet to help it fall into the depth of the image. Will see how things pan out though. 🙂

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    Matt Goslee

    I was wondering if we had a similar idea in the works could we submit that too? i have a composite that I am working on that is very similar to the mushroom and the girl but it is a cookie and a pixie (really small girl lol)?

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      Nick Bedford

      Maybe you could post the final one as well as one without the work done in the composite (i.e. cut out and slapped on top of the image ready to blend)? I would be interested in seeing it.

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    Mariah Texidor

    Aaron, great job explaining that aspect of light and shadows- sounds
    like you just sat down in my M&P class (Materials and Processes of
    Photo) hahaha. It is complex but also so interesting! The class is
    sometimes called Misery and Pain b.c it is our 8am lecture lmao. My lab
    this week is seeing how our eyes perceive all of this light and colors. I love the science part of photo just as much as the artistic part 🙂
    Question for you and/or Phamily: How does the flow make a difference, or like its importance is what I am saying? To me it kinda seems just like brush size, help? PLease and thanks 🙂

    Also, where are the PSDs??

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    Seth DuBois

    Perfect timing! Was just working on a composite today and couldn’t figure out how to recreate the shadow. Decided to walk away from it for a bit and then this pops up!

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    Matt Goslee

    maybe not your mushroom fairy but my image that i was working on Still more elements that have to go into  the image. Please give me feed back on the image MY PHlearn PHamily!

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      “Honey, I shrunk the Phamily!” Seems to be a virus going around. ;o)

      What I see here is that both the lighting and (to a lesser extent) the resolution of the two images in this composite don’t match. Your hand painted shadow seems to be matching the portrait’s lighting, but not the overal picture’s. My unpolished attempt at “fixing” this includes dealing with the hair light (clone stamp), shadows (overlay mode layer), tones (curves), resolution (blur), eye sparkle (brush). Hope that helps.

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    Daniel Tuck

    Possibly the most useful Phlearn episode ever Aaron – you are awesomeness personified!! I’d just spent literally no more than 10 minutes editing this image I created over the weekend to make it better, using the light techniques you’ve just described, and it already looks 100% better and more realistic – thank you thank you thank you thank you!!

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    OK, I never fancied myself being one of the people that just writes, “That was a great episode!” But, that really was a great episode!

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    Yay I won!! now one of my resolutions came true!
    thank u Aaron! haha I got you to do the creeped out voice 😛

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    Dale Richards

    I don’t normally edit other peoples images but this gave me a great chance to try some editing techniques, let me know what you think and if they’re convincing. This is Phlearn so if they don’t convince you please be honest so I can work on them more =]


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    Hi Aaron, Cracker of an episode !!  I had to
    have a go at this one, see if I’m phlearning anything !  Don’t judge me
    too harshly but would love to hear what you think !! cheers dude. Keep on
    keeping on ! Jon.

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    I hate mushrooms!!
    I hate this one! :s
    this is the best I result I got at least for today! I wanted to do something a bit different! well here it goes :/

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    Carl Revell

    Great Phlearn episode Aaron. Definitely one of my favourites so far.

    I for one have been guilty of drawing shadows in varying opacities of black. Hopefully that’s going to change now.

    Now my 365 Project is complete, I can finally spend some time working on Phlearn and Flickr group challenges. Here’s my attempt at the lady on a funghi 🙂

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    Mike Fendt

    Great episode Aaron they just keep getting better and better. 
    Here is my attempt on the Mushroom photo, I have also added a little extra into it I hope you don’t mind. 

    also with doing this little project I found a new little cheat, a lot of you may already know this but give it a try if you dont. 
    Lens Flare’s
    when your ready to add a lens flare into your image, 
    1. Stamp Visible CTRL SHIFT ALT E
    2.Filters/Render/Lens flare, then put it into the position you need it then tap OK. 
    3.once you see the lens flare on the image hit CTRL Z (undo) then its gone
    4.create a new layer and fill with black. 
    5.have a beer. 
    6.hit CTRL F or go to filters last filter, your new Lens flare has arrived
    7.Go to layer adjustments scroll down to “screen” the layer is now transparent and its back on your image but now you can add blur move it around change the colour rotate it any thing you want the fun is limitless.

    Thanks for reading guys.  

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    Eiríkur Brynjólfsson

    Ohhh yehhh.. this was lots of fun. thx for shearing.I love this. so nice to add some more deapt in the shawdow. this is goning to help a lot.

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      Eiríkur Brynjólfsson

      after posting it on a forum, i got a realy nice critique. noise in the background dint fit, the lighting was little to overdone, and looked that it was not from the right lightsort(stil not there thow ;/ ) and her leg was not resting right.

      so i gave it an 2hour more work, and wow. i was a litle suprised of the change.
      i think its for the better. 🙂

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    Here you go….I would have done a better job had I been on mushrooms myself 🙂

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    Frank Z

    Oooops, I really got lost in Photoshop…..While watching your videos, it’s all totally clear! — what you do, –why you do it and how, but then, if I try editing something, nearly all of the things I have seen in your videos left my mind….. By the way, you are great! 

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    Stephen Early

    Love this video! Light and shadow is the root of fine art. I’m really liking the edits people are coming up with. I think I might add a little flair to this one tonight. I went with the simple and realistic approach. Not super fun. lol.

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    Hey Aaron its me Rick….aka…Creepinowl….got my submission for you….I decided I was gonna mess with a bunch of shadows and lights…..test my skills… PS….I used just about every tutorial you have ever taught on phlearn…….blend-ifs, curves, levels, layer masks..light sources, custom brushes…etc.and I have 60+ layers to prove it lol….although im satisfied with it….I could certainly use more skills from the master :)!!
    Let me know what you think…enjoy

    P.S. can you spot these things in the pics…..lady bug, earth worm!!

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    …And I’m spent- those feet are rough. Really tough challenge, feel like I could tweak this another 8 hours and still not be happy. Can’t wait to see what you do with it Aaron.

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    Drew Backues

    Great tutorial Aaron!  I am somewhat of a newbie at photoshop and love what you have put together at Phlearn.  I attempted your tutorial… and attached is my attempt.  I’m not sure if you would have time or how you schedule your daily videos… but when attempting this, the hardest thing for me to do was to remove the blue from the see-through tutu that the teddy bear had on.  Just an idea.  I’d be interested on your process.
    Thanks for all your help… you do an awesome job!

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    Vin Tew

    This was my first try at playing with light and shadow and it was so much fun! 😀

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    Nick Bedford

    I’ve included my before image (just the basic cutout) and the final image for comparison. PSD converted to 16-bit ended up 130 mb. 86 layers. Could tweak this for hours!

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    Karissa Hosek

    thank you for covering shadows!! learned more in this episode then i did having it covered in class because we used a black brush on low opacity. colors make a worlds of difference on the image.
     the ending of this is hilarious. reminds me of my brother who always seems to fart in the worst situations…

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    Michael Benford

    The 2 download links above didnt include the .psd. Is there a different link then the 2 above to download the .psds? Thanks for your help.

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    Maddy [MS]

    Learnt a lot trying to do this never really worked with shadows before. Phlearn makes it so easy.

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    Colin Bridge

    Wow great episode Aaron. I had never thought about the reciprocal lighting before today! This is my first contest i’m entering and I cant wait to enter more!

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    Colin Bridge

    Wow great episode Aaron. I had never thought about the reciprocal lighting before today! This is my first contest i’m entering and I cant wait to enter more!

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    Colin Bridge

    Wow great episode Aaron. I had never thought about the reciprocal lighting before today! This is my first contest i’m entering and I cant wait to enter more! (edit this is the correct version!)

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    Nick Arora

    Okay this was a fun challenge…but I also have to say it was the HARDEST challenge you’ve put up so far.  It literally made me think about all sorts of crazy concepts you’ve brought up in the last 200 episodes — direction of light, shadow colors, atmospheric haze, black and white check layers, etc etc.

    Anyway, its not perfect but I worked really hard on it!  You really know your stuff aaron and every episode is making me better and better at photoshop.  (Seriously, a few months ago, I would have been stoked that I managed to cut her out without butchering her hair!)

    My entry —

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    Gonçalo Motta Carneiro

    I’ve already seen great entries. Phamily has some real talent.
    Here’s my take on it. Cheers

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    Andrea Baccara

    Dear Aaron, thank you for this contest. It helped me to make something useful in my free time 🙂 This was very fun indeed and it allows me to apply a loooooot of concept learned in your lessons.
    Moreover I need to improve myself using my new wacom tablet. Anyway here my result. I also share the whole PSD for everyone interested in, you can find the link on my website:

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    Natasha Root

    This was fun and great practice with a chance to win some phlearn pros… Nothing bad could come out of it. Even if I don’t win the pros I’ve learned something from the process. Thanx Aaron!

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    This was indeed really fun! Very very cool detail to add to my composites from now on 🙂 I had some fun trying to turn the original pictures into something bigger!

    Thanks again for all the Awesome tutorials!! I’ve really learned a lot this week and am excited to see what you’ll all create next week 😀

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    I Enjoyed that, I learnt alot from that, it really makes the composite a lot more realistic..
    anyhow here is my entry.

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    Seif Ragheb

    Hey Mr.Aaron , that my first really work , and i like this episode to much you are a great master , So hope you check my pic. and hope you like it ,..

    Wait for your comment ..: ) 

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    Sebastian Ortiz

    Well, I gave it a try, very challenging, but I like a challenge so here’s mine… HAve a great long weekend everyone!!
     Peace and Love…


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      Virginia Arigon

      love the way u crossed her legs! awesome and very creative! She looks tiny indeed!!

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    Shahram Rad

    Oke. it is also the best i could. 🙂

    I also change the direction of legs ( you can see in a Pro episode)
    I think it was Rebirth.

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    Can I use dodge and burn tool instead of darker colours to create shadows?

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    Peter McLinn

    This is one of the best video’s on shadows I have ever seen. Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge.

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    Todd Wiseman

    I’d just like to say, no one else on the entire internet is talking about shadows and shading in this much depth. I keep coming back to this and watching it again because there is so much to soak in. THANK YOU for going into such detail! The other tutorials out there on shadows are just laughably simple compared to this. Phlearn really is on another level and I appreciate so much the work you do. Thank you, Aaron!

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    Sumit Pillai

    It would be great to see some more product shoots with varied material. Love the stuff EVERYTIME! I am getting back to PS after a decade and PHLEARN has made it much easier. CHEERS!

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    for some reason I can’t download the any of the files. not psd nor jpgs
    can you reupload them somewhere?