How to Create Realistic Shadow in Photoshop

By on June 5, 2012 — Updated on June 5, 2012

Adobe Photoshop has a preset drop shadow layer style, but this layer style is only good if it’s your first time to use Photoshop. Though there are many options available in the layer style window which you can customize, these options are not enough to achieve at least realistic if not perfect shadow as I have tested.

I tried many ways to personalize the settings available in the software to create realistic shadow in a way that it would be easy for me replicate the process even in multiple times to different types of subject in every design that I am making and I found this one to be easy to work with especially for the product photography post processing.

Please take note that I do not use the illustrations of where to get the Adobe Photoshop Tools or what short-cut keys to press in this tutorial because I presume that you are already familiar with the common tools and some terminologies of the Adobe Photoshop.

Before we start, let’s define some terms on this post to minimize confusion on the process:

  • Object refers to the image or the shape on each layer whether it is rasterized (bitmap) or smart object (vector).
  • Subject refers to the object which photo effects will be added into.
  • Drop shadow is the available layer style provided by the Adobe Photoshop.
  • Customized cast shadow is the personalized shadow that we are going to create using some techniques combined with the Photoshop drop shadow.

Here’s How to Create Realistic Shadow in Photoshop

Step 1.  Prepare the object that you want to be added with a customized cast shadow. Mine is the three oranges that I shot for Chinese New Year promotion. Make sure that your subject is properly cut and has transparent background.

Step 2. Create a new layer behind your subject, and using the brush tool with soft-edged brush, click once your mouse to create a soft-edged circle on the empty new layer. Make sure that the size of your brush is not so big to cover your subject.


Step 3. Slowly reshape the soft-edged circle that you have created into ellipse then apply color overlay on it. Choose a dark color that will match to your subject, avoid using black. For my subject, I choose brown to complement with the oranges.

Step 4. Make more ellipses by duplicating the first one, and position them to the areas where shadows are normally found in the areas where you want the shadows to be casted. For my orange, I have made five ellipses in all. Now, you may find your customized cast shadow to be good enough and you can stop here if you are in hurry but if you want it to be more realistic, you need to add another touches on it.

Step 5. Duplicate your subject and move the copy behind the subject. Just move it behind, exactly the same position with the original one, then cut or erase some of its portion remaining the area covering the ellipses that you have created. On this illustration, I reduce the transparency of my subject to give you better understanding of what I mean.

Step 6. Apply the Photoshop drop shadow layer style on it. Set the color of this Photoshop drop shadow the same with the color overlay of the ellipses, then adjust the distance, size and transparency of the layer style according to your taste. This will add emphasis to the edge of your subject. For my orange, I used distance = 1, size = 4 and transparency = 30%. The size of my image is 360 x 255 pixels.

Step 7. Finally, adjust the intensity of your customized drop shadow according to your will using the opacity of the layer. Remember that the intensity of shadow is not equal at all areas. There should be areas that are darker than the others so it’s up to you to use your own judgment to create more realistic shadow. You can use the eraser tool to remove extra shadow if you want. While judging your work, be reminded that the monitor of your computer also affects on how the image appears to your eyes. My final output is the one at the topmost.

Thank you for reading. Godspeed!

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  1. metalpig design

    June 17, 2012 at 3:05 am

    awesome tuts! but mostly, I used the default drop shadow especially if the project is super rush.. 🙂
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  2. tatess

    June 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    I was looking at the shadow , and yes the shadow here were handled very well. nice shot
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  3. carmel

    June 21, 2012 at 6:09 am

    I mostly use the drop shadow to accent text and symbols. Haven’t thought about using it for images, hehe… very nicely done. Don’t we all love Photoshop! 🙂
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  4. RonLeyba

    June 26, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Great tips! I only use the predefined shadow tool of photoshop. Now I can use the brush as well.
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  5. Una

    February 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I was using the elliptical marquee tool.
    This is so much quicker.
    thanks a million.

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