Create realistic shadow effect in PHOTOSHOP


Realistic Shadow Effect In Photoshop

In any graphic work, the realistic shadow effect is always one of the most important effects. Shadows are often intended to provide realism or depth to object, make viewer feel as if the object is real, capture their attention and interest.

It is very important to know how to cast a realistic shadow in Photoshop, not only for photo manipulations but also for digital art.

Realistic shadows make the photo more vivid
Realistic shadows make the photo more vivid.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to cast a realistic shadow in Photoshop using a combination of the following tools: Selection Tool, Gradient Tool, Transform Tool, Blur filter, Quick mask and Gradient Overlay. I assure you this is the simplest way you can find to create a realistic silhouette.


Step 1: Select object

If we want to cast shadow to objects, we need to create selection for them first.

This is the photo I’m using for this tutorial:

The original image
The original image.

You can use selection tools like the Quick Selection Tool [W], Lasso Tool [L], Pentool [P] to draw a selection around the object in the photo. If you use Photoshop CC 2020 and later, you can use the new feature: “Object Selection Tool” to make selections very quickly.

“If you are using photoshop 2020 and later and don’t see the object selection tool in the toolbar, follow these easy instructions

When you’re done, you should see a selection outline around them like this:

Create a selection for the object.

Step 2: Copy the selection to a new layer

With the person or object selected, Right-click on the selection and choose Layer via copy; or press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) (keyboard shortcuts) on your keyboard to quickly copy the selection to a new layer. You can see that Photoshop has copied the selection to a new layer named “Layer 1” above the Background layer:

“Layer 1” above the Background layer.

Step 3: Resize Canvas space (Optional)

If you feel the canvas space is too small and needs to be expanded, press C on the keyboard [the Crop Tool]. Then left-click on the extreme right point of the canvas, hold the left mouse button and drag it outward until you feel enough.

Resize canvas space.

Step 4: Create a new background behind your object (Optional)

Select the layer just below the object’s layer (in here it is background layer). Click on “Create a new layer” icon or press Shift + Control + N (win) / Shift + Command + N (mac). This layer will serve as your new background. The new layer named “Layer 2” appears above the Background layer and under Layer 1:

“Create a new layer” icon.
“Layer 2”.








Then, using Gradient Tool to create a little depth background. Click on the Gradient Tool on the Toolbar or press G on the keyboard to access the Gradient Tool. If at the position of the Gradient Tool displayed is the Paint Bucket Tool or the 3D Material Drop Tool, right-click and select the Gradient Tool. Using the Tool Option Bar to customize the color and other properties of the Gradient Tool:

Gradient Tool.
The Gradient Tool is a useful and widely used tool in create realistic cast shadow effect tutorial.











Select a point on the document window, hold the left mouse button and drag in the direction you want (the same way you resize the canvas space) like this:

Hold at the point you clicked and drag to the appropriate position.

Step 5: Create cast shadow:

You use layer 2 to cast a shadow. I may call it “shadow layer”.

Select gradient layer (layer 2), press Shift + Control + N (win) / Shift + Command + N (mac) to create a new layer:

Create new layer like step 4.

Choose your shadow layer.

Hold down your Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key and left-click directly on the isolated object’s layer’s preview thumbnail in the Layer panel:

Hold down Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) and click on Shadow layer’s preview thumbnail. You can see the hand displayed when you put the cursor on the layer’s preview thumbnail.










Press D on your keyboard. This will reset to the default background color of white, and foreground color of black. Then hold Alt + press Del (Win) / hold Option + press Del (Mac) to fill selection on shadow layer with black:

Default color of the Background and Foreground.
The selection in shadow layer is filled with black. We can’t see it just yet in the document window because the image on Layer 1 is blocking it from view, but we can see it in the layer’s preview thumbnail in the Layers panel.

Using Transform tool to transform the cast shadow. Press Ctrl + T (win) / Command + T (mac), then right-click on the cast shadow, choose Distort.

Then, hold on any anchor point you want and drag it to transform silhouette and make it more realistic. Press Enter if you are satisfied.

The Distort feature.
Hold and drag the Anchor points to any position you want.

To make realistic shadow, you need to blur it.

Click on filter (tool option bar), choose blur and click on gaussian blur

Gaussian Blur is one of the most used blur effects in Photoshop.

Edit radius value between 1.5 and 3 and click OK.

Type the value you want. I recommend using a value between 1.5 and 3.

Step 6: Use Quick mask to gradually select the shadow (Optional)

For a shadow to look more realistic, the edges need to become gradually softer the further away it extends from the subject. However, this is not mandatory for all subjects. If you want to know how then continue reading these instructions:

Firstly, we’ll create a selection using Photoshop’s Quick Mask mode:

  1. Choose the shadow layer, then press Q on the keyboard.
  2. Press G on the keyboard to use gradient tool.
  3. Choose color basic (black, white) on tool option bar.
  4. Hold left mouse and drag it parallel to the silhouette.
  5. Press Q again to out of Quick mask mode.

    Step-by-step number of operations for Quick mask mode .

And we have the selection like this:

The Selection is created by Quick mask mode.

Finally, Using Gaussian Blur Filter Again, but this time, we increase the Radius value to around 7-10 pixels, then click OK:

Silhouette has become more realistic and vivid.

Step 7: Add a Gradient Overlay:

Gradient Overlay helps shadows become more realistic when there is a low-light source from a distance.

Click on Layer style, choose Blending Options

Choose Multiply blending mode and tick “Transparency Shapes Layer”. This ensures the Gradient is only applied to the opaque areas of the layer.

Remember tick “Transparency Shapes Layer”.

Set up the Gradient Overlay like Gradient tool ensuring you’re using a Basic Black to White Overlay at parallel angle to the shadow. Using customize Scale Slider will affect the fade of the Gradient.

Ensuring you’re using a Basic Black to White Overlay at parallel angle to the shadow. For me that is 34 degree angle.

We suggest you adjust the color of the gradient overlay to make more realistic shadow. Click on color bar in gradient overlay option. Hold and drag color stop points to the suitable position.

Click on lighter color stop point and choose gray instead of white.

Click OK until all windows are closed.

Also you can change the shadow’s opacity parameter to complete work.

Lower the shadow layer’s opacity to about 85-90%.

And the final result:

The final realistic cast shadow result.
The final result.


However, sometimes we need to cast realistic shadow on the subject that is in an environment with many light sources and reflective surfaces. For example, the room is flooded with light and has reflective marble tiles like this:

The room is flooded with light.

At this point we need to edit some more elements to make the picture more realistic.

1. Select object like step 1 and copy the selection to a new layer above the room background layer. Then, use flip horizontal in transform tool combined with move tool [V] to move the object into position.

Using flip horizontal in transfrom tool combined with the Move Tool [V] to move the object into appropriate position.
2. Cast shadow as our steps in the REALISTIC SHADOW EFFECT tutorial. We use flip vertical on shadow instead of distort in transform tool.

Using flip vertical instead of distort in transform tool.

3. Add gradient overlay to the silhouette like step 8.

Use a Gradient Overlay effect at -90 degrees angle to the silhouette. Do not forget adjust Opacity value and Overlay blending mode for the shadow. It is very helpful in creating realistic shadow.

…helpful in creating realistic shadow.

4. Repeat the steps above with a photo of multiple light sources.

You can use the Brush Tool [B] to draw the penumbra and umbra (option).

And with that, we’re really done! Here’s the final “realistic shadow” effect:

That’s how to create a realistic shadow effect in Photoshop!

You want to learn more awesome Photoshop effects tutorials? Visit our Photoshop tutorial section!


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