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Drop a Shadow in Ps for Realistic Compositing

If you are cutting out a figure and placing it on a background in Photoshop, you need to be aware of the light source and shadows that this light source is casting on your figure. When properly done, shadows help you compositing work look more realistic.

In this article, you will learn about the Layer Style - Drop Shadow function in Photoshop. To get into the layer styles in Photoshop, click on the fx icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Then, click on Drop Shadow, this brings up the Drop Shadow Dialog Box.

Fig.1. Make a quick selection of the figure

Fig.2. Paste the cutout on the background photo and duplicate the figure layer

Let's take the below photo as an walkthrough example.

  • Open the background photo.
  • Open the photo that contains your figure that you want to cutout and place on the background photo.
  • Do the cutout and paste on it's separate layer on top of the background layer. Fig.1.
  • Duplicate the figure, Cmd click on the layer to make a selection and fill it with black to give a shadow cast. Fig.2.
  • Reduce the layer Opacity to about 35%.
  • Click on the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add the Drop Shadow layer style. Know the direction of light to place the shadow. Increase the distance and speed to suit your taste. Fig.3.
  • Next using the keyboard shortcut Cmd+T on a Mac(Ctrl+T on a PC), activate the Free Transform tool.
  • By holding down the Cmd key on the keyboard, hover your cursor over the top mid-point until the arrow turns white.
  • Click and drag the shadow out to the left and down.
  • Convert this layer to a Smart Object, and apply a Gaussian Blur (4 to 8 pixels).
  • Reduce the layer Opacity to around 70%.

Fig.3. Click on fx icon to add a Drop Shadow style

Fig.4. Final photo with realistic shadow cast

That's it! Notice the realistic shadow cast we introduced in Fig.4. Now it is your turn to practice this tutorial.