How To Create A Cast Shadow In Adobe Photoshop CC 2014

How To Create A Cast Shadow In Adobe Photoshop CC 2014

Image of tree with a cast shadow
Cast shadows are not difficult to add to layers in composite images.

One of the more difficult basic skills to master when creating composite images in Photoshop is, of all things, adding realistic cast shadows. When I confront these in my classes, for example, I make it clear that just because you created it in Photoshop it doesn’t mean it is real. This is primarily due to the artist paying more attention to the screen than getting out of his or her chair and studying a real shadow.

In this “How To” I am going to walk through a technique that is rather simple to accomplish and gives a believable result. Before you create the shadow you need to select an object from the background, refine its edges using the Refine Edge tool and then move it into its own layer. With that done you can now concentrate on creating the shadow.

Let’s get started.

How To Create A Drop Shadow In Adobe Photoshop CC 2014

The Drop Shadow Layer Effect dialog box
We start by adding a Drop Shadow Layer Effect to the object.

Though this may sound counter-intuitive we are starting with a Drop Shadow. To do this I select the Layer containing the tree and click the fx button at the bottom of the layers panel to add a Layer Effect. I selected Drop Shadow and used these settings:

  • Shadow Colour: #544e4b which is the colour of a shadow further up the street.
  • Angle: -180 degrees
  • Distance: 69 px to move the shadow away from the tree.
  • Size: 5 px. I wanted the shadow to be distinct.

When finished, I clicked OK to accept the change.

How To Put A Shadow On Its Own Layer in Photoshop CC 2014

Creating A layer from an existing layer
The shadow is moved to a separate layer in the Photoshop document.

I have a shadow but it is the wrong type. To fix this I first select the shadow layer and then right clicked on the fx in the Layer name. This opens a pop down menu and I select Create Layer. Don’t let the alert bother you it applies to other effects. I now had a Layer containing just the shadow. 

How To Distort A Shadow In Photoshop CC 2014

Distort is select in the Free Transform Tool options
The shadow is distorted to make it look like the tree is casting the shadow.

 Of course a shadow lays flat on the ground. This is where the Free Transform Tool becomes invaluable. I selected the Shadow layer  and then selected Edit>Free Transform. What you don’t do is merrily start yanking the handles. I right clicked on the selection and selected Distort from the pop down menu. Then I adjusted the handles and position of the shadow to have it lay across the patio. When I was satisfied, I pressed the Return/Enter key to accept the change.

There was still one last issue to deal with. It didn’t look real. Shadows have fuzzy edges and tend to soften and fade as they move further away from the object casting the shadow.

How To Soften A Cast Shadow In Photoshop CC 2014.

The Gaussian Blur dialog box
The shadow is duplicated and a Gaussian Blur is applied to the duplicate.

I started by duplicating the Shadow layer in the Layers panel. This was done by right clicking on the layer and selecting Duplicate Layer from the pop down. The new layer is what I want to work on so I turned off the visibility of the original shadow layer.

I then selected the Shadow copy layer and applied an 8-pixel Gaussian Blur to the layer. This will soften the shadow and the amount of Blur to be applied depends up on the size of the image and the shadow.

How To Mask And Blend A Cast Shadow In Adobe Photoshop CC 2014

Layer Masks are applied to both shadow layers
Layer masks and reduced opacity are added to the two shadow layers.

With the shadow in place, I turned my attention to fading it out as it moves away from the tree. I selected the Shadow copy layer and added a Layer Mask from the Layers panel. With the Mask selected, I selected the Gradient Tool and making sure the colours were White  (foreground) and Black (background), drew a gradient from about ¼ the distance from the bottom of the shadow to the top. This faded the shadow rather nicely.

I then held down the Option/Alt key and dragged a copy of the mask to the other shadow layer below it. This blends the two shadows rather nicely.

The last step in the process was to set the opacity of the of the top shadow to 64% and the opacity of the bottom shadow to around half that value. This Blends the two shadow layers rather nicely and gives a more natural looking result.