The “Drop Shadow” is one of the most important tools in a digital artist’s arsenal. Used rightly, it adds instant realism to your composition and makes everything look better. Used wrongly, it takes away credibility and makes things look worse. Adding intricate shadows in Photoshop can be very time consuming depending on how realistic you want to get. However, today’s tutorial will shed light (no pun intended) on how to make relatively realistic drop shadows in a fraction of the time. This method is something I picked up one day when I was working on a project that called for a lot of photos to be edited in a short amount of time. As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention and this was no exception.
For this project, we’re using a stock photo of some bottles and containers. This image was specifically chosen because it included multiple objects that needed shadow effects.
The first step is to make a layer called “shadow” and select a medium-sized brush tool. Set your brush hardness to 0 and your foreground color to black. Position your cursor near the middle of the canvas and click once to paint a dot in the middle. Make sure the entire mark is within the canvas and that none of the edges are cut off.
Select the Free Transform tool and vertically shrink the brush mark into an ellipse / flattened pancake shape. Next, still using the transform tool, increase the width of the brush mark until the mark resembles the shape below. This will be your drop shadow template.
Move this shadow underneath brownish container in the front adjusting the overall size to fit the object’s base. The fun part starts here. The goal is to make it look as realistic as possible. This is where you’ll want to experiment with duplicating layers to increase shadow opacity, blurring, re-sizing, masking, etc. One effective method I’ve found is duplicating then shrinking shadow layers to achieve a gradual shading effect. Positioning is also very important when making realistic effects. You’ll want to position the shadow in a manner so only some of the shadow seeps out underneath the front of the object. The image below on the right shows how moving the shadow too far down will result in a floating object.
Once you’ve finished tweaking your shadow, you’re now ready to rinse, repeat, and adjust again. Using this technique, you can duplicate the shadow layer and re-size as needed. As you finish adding shadows to the rest of the objects, consider how every object casts a unique shadow and let those differences guide your technique. For example, the leaning cap above will cast a very different shadow than the resting bottles. Even though you may find yourself making a lot of adjustments, the core shadow layer can still serve as a foundation for virtually any kind of shadow you’ll need to make down the line. And that’s it. In under 5 minutes, you add a whole new life to your designs and product displays.