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The Design Center, DT&G / Photoshop Department / Common Shadow Mistakes / Realistic Shadows with Glenn Honiball  

Following Glen's last article "Shadow Mistakes" we continue the
investigation of shadows with this excerpt from
Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio...

Realistic, complicated shadows

with Glenn Honiball

Creating a shadow for a complex object is a little more involved than the freehand shading we've done so far. In this section, we'll create a shadow for a more intricate object, the complex tree shown in this example. By the time we get to the final image, we'll have replanted this tree on a hillside with the proper shadow intact.

shade object At right is the starting picture of a lonely tree. Above, is the tree in its new environment with proper shadow.

Getting started...

First, make a selection of the tree and create a new multiplied shadow layer.

On the new multiplied layer, fill the selection with a 98% black, as I've done in this diagram.

Next, select Edit > Transform Path > Skew.

Move the transform center pivot point of the transform tool to the bottom of the tree, so that it will be the pivot point of the shadow, as in this diagram

Then, adjust the corner handles and distort the shadow layer until the desired shadow angle is achieved. The desired angle of the tree shadow will of course be determined by the direction from which the light is coming.

Let's say the sun would be coming from the right side of the image. You can see this if you look carefully at the tree trunk, as the right side of the tree has an orange glow to it from the sun and the left side of the tree is dark, or in the shadow area. This would mean that the tree shadow would fall to the left and be placed flat on the ground.

Move the transform center pivot point to the bottom of the tree, and then adjust and distort the shadow to the desired angle. (Diagram 4 "Transform")

If there were an object on the ground to the left of the tree where the shadow tails, the shadow would shape or mold itself around and over that object. For right now, we'll assume that it is landing flat on the ground.

Shadows tend to get blurry the longer they extend out and their intensity starts to fall off, so once the shadow has been distorted to the correct position, I usually go into mask mode and create a fall-off mask, as in Diagram 5 "Create a vignette mask"

Then I can perform a tonal correction to the end of the tree shadow, typically lightening the shadow as is it falls off, as in Diagram 6 "Lighten the shadow with the Curve tool"

NOTE: Keep in mind as well that, as a shadow gets closer to an object, it gets sharper with less vignetting occurring. The vignetted mask allows you to make these adjustments.

Typically, as shadows extend out father from their original object, they get less sharp and tend to get blurry.

You can also use the same vignette mask that you used to lighten the tree shadow fall-off to add a Gaussian blur to the shadow as shown in Diagram 7 "Correction made with a Gaussian blur"

Correction made with a Gaussian blur added and curve adjustment made to lighten the shadow as it falls off; of course, the mask is restricting these corrections. By using the vignetted mask, it makes it easy to blur the shadow as it falls off from the tree, because the vignetted has been created to allow for more correction as it falls off.

Another option would be to brush a fall-off and a varied degree of blur with the Brush tool and or a History brush.

Finally, our tree is ready for its mountainside transplanting. But remember, when a shadow hits an irregular shape, the shape of the shadow will change, too. So when the shadow hits the mountainside, you may have to adjust, as in this next diagram.

Correct shadow

You can alter your shadow by drawing the new shape with the Pen tool, and then filling it with color on a multiplied layer. You may have to soften it slightly to enhance the realism of it. Or, I occasionally use the Liquify tool if the object the shadow is hitting is an odd shape that has to be massaged into an equally odd shape.

As the mountain goes up, so does the shadow.

Glenn Honiball


Learn to modify photos like the pros...

cover Written by 20-year photo retouching veteran Glenn Honiball, Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio is the only book to deliver advice for the photographer and artist working with Photoshop CS 2 in a real world commercial environment.
      Honiball offers incomparable technical and artistic guidance for professionals, graphic artists, photographers, and just about anyone involved in creating and manipulating digital images.
      All the tools, techniques, and skills you need to achieve consistent, professional results with Photoshop CS2 can be found in Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio. Anyone with intermediate-to-advanced Photoshop skills--whether you want to explore photo retouching personally or as an imaging professional or student--can use Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio to produce sharp, expert, extraordinary photos that don't look retouched.

Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio
by Glenn Honiball
List Price: $44.95 - Amazon Price: $29.67 You Save: $15.28 (33%)
Paperback: 270 pages Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Inc.

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