You may have seen my last wood sculpture portfolio image. I have made a blog post on it and tutorial on how to randomly scale objects in After Effects. Today I wish to teach you how I made three prominent shadows at the bottom of my image. These were added later in, of course, Photoshop. It doesn’t take so much time and, if done properly, can be very realist.

What Not To Do

You may be tempted to grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool, make an ellipse, fill it with black on a new layer, blur it (a lot) and decrease its opacity and call it a day. This technique is very close to what I’ll show you but not ideal because it renders the shadow as a flat blob of darkness. Shadows have form and the’re darker toward the middle (or wherever the closest point of the object that casts the shadow is to the surface).

What To Do

To accomplish such rendition, you need to use multiples ellipses. They need to be concentric toward the lowest point of the object that casts the shadow. In my image, I will produce the left shadow since it’s harder than the middle one. The right copy is just that, a flipped copy of the original left version.

To start, you need to choose the Elliptical Marquee Tool and drag a thin-ish a quite wide ellipse under the actual object. It needs to be about the length of the sculpture. The width of your shadow will be dependent on your image’s perspective. The more straight on and horizontal looking your shot is, the thinner your selection needs to be. The more up and looking-down your camera is, the wider it must be. After, create a new blank layer and fill your selection with black (assuming your colours are the defaults) by pressing ⌥+Delete (Alt + Delete on PCs). What you will have is a pure black blob. I usually decrease the opacity to around 20%. However, that depends on you photo. So, I say start at 20% and move your way to where you feel comfortable. The next step is to convert your layer to a Smart Object. To accomplish so, just right-click on the layer and press Convert to Smart Object. That will enable us to change the blur radius after it was applied.

After all this has been done, you need to add other ellipses in order to create the gradation the darker point of shadow to the lighter. To do so, just duplicate the first layer (⌘+J on Macs, Control+J on PCs) and press ⌘+T (or Control+T) and move/scale the new shadow toward the lowest point of the object. Do this a couple of times (in my case, 5 times was enough) to gradually have a darker point. I highly suggest grouping your layers at this point for organization purposes.

Finally, we’re to the place where you can start blurring the shadows. Just go up to the Gaussian Blur filter and use a big radius. In my case, I chose 85px but I’m dealing with a 29MP file. Your number may vary. Add a blur to each layer (but don’t only apply the same radius - look for what’s better). The reason why we haven’t added the blur to the first layer and duplicated that instead of only the layer without the blur is precisely because you have a better chance at having the blur amount right if you choose it individually, one-by-one. Since the layers are Smart Objects you can always go back and review the blur down the road, for each layer. At this point, you will see if you need to add any new ellipses or whatever change needs to be done.

Every layer has it's blur

The two final steps involve selecting the layer group and rotating it to match the sculpture’s angle and reducing the overall group opacity to suit your need (I have mine at 80%).

Just duplicate the shadow group (⌘+J on Macs, Control+J on PCs), flip vertically (⌘+T, right-click and Flip Vertical) and move your shadow to under the right mask and you are done for this one. To produce the middle shadow, you will need to start over from scratch and follow the exact same technique.

Have You Heard of The Realism Filter?

Probably not - because I just made it up. What I call the Realism filter is, in fact, the Noise filter. As I said before, cameras will always never yield perfect image quality - there will always be some kind of noise, light diffraction, chromatic aberrations, etc… However, the shadows we have create do not have these issues, since they were made on the computer. To incorporate them even more into the shot, we need to add it teeny bit of noise to them. To do so, just press the eye icon to hide every non-shadow related layer and make a new layer that merges all visible elements by smashing ⌘⌥⇧E (Control + Option + Shift + E). Then,go to the Add Noise filter (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) and choose a radius between 3-4% and 6-7%.

The final result!

This was a quite complete way to add fake shadows to a product/still life image in Photoshop. If you have any questions or suggestions, leave them below!