When it comes to making an illustration realistic, natural shadows are one of the most important elements. It helps to create a more cohesive and well-rounded image. This is especially true when compositing a photograph or an illustration with natural light.
When creating a natural looking shadow, three things are important: color, perspective and shape. Learn how to create the perfect shadow in Photoshop, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a highly believable and natural-looking composite.
Step 1: Create a Layer Mask
The first thing you need to do is to create a layer mask for your subject layer. This will make it easier to edit the layer after you’re done. To do this, select your subject layer and hold the Ctrl (Windows) or Command (macOS) key while clicking on the New Layer Mask icon.
Now that you have your layer mask, click on the Layer Effects panel to open the Layer Style window. This will display the different settings that you can tweak to get the exact shadow you want.
Opacity: This slider darkens or lightens your shadow. It also controls the angle at which it falls based on the direction of the light. It’s a good idea to experiment with the various settings here and move them around until you find the perfect combination for you.
Once you’ve settled on a few settings, go ahead and click OK to close the Layer Style window. You’ll then be able to manipulate your shadow and text by using these settings.
Step 2: Use a Gradient to Create a Realistic Shadow
In real life, shadows become blurrier and lighter the further they recede from an object. The best way to achieve this is to use a gradient in your alpha channel. You can use any radial, angular reflected or diamond gradient to create the illusion of depth and dimension in your shadow.
To create your gradient, start by choosing the Gradient tool from the left menu. Once you have the correct setting, select a point about halfway through your shadow and draw a line toward that point.
When you reach the end of your line, drag it back through the object casting the shadow to complete your selection. This will create a red gradient on top of your photo, showing how the mask within your alpha channel interacts with your picture.
Step 3: Add a Blur to Your Shadow
You can add a blur to your shadow by using the Gaussian blur tool, which is located under Filters in the Layers Palette. The pixel radius should be set around 25 pixels, but you can adjust it as needed to get the right effect.
Step 4: Apply a Curves Adjustment to Your Shadow
Another key step for making your shadow look more realistic is applying a curves adjustment to the layer. This will make your shadows appear more rounded and realistic by increasing the amount of negative space in them.