A Quick Shadow Fix Using Photoshop

Aside from your Concept, your Photography, and your Cutouts, what is the single most important element of Composite Photography?

When it comes to Photo Compositing, the one thing I see photographers struggling with the most is with creating Shadows.

That’s why I’m going to show you how I Fixed and super important Shadow using Photoshop.

Truth be told, Shadows are the Achilles heal of most photographers who want to Composite, and I would argue they are the reason most photographers give up on Compositing way too soon.

Why Shadows are Soon Difficult

I don’t consider myself to be a Master at Compositing like the 5 Composite Photographers who inspire me, but I have done a fair amount of Composites, and Shadows are still tricky.

There are a few reasons I believe Shadows give us Compositors such a hard time.

We Don’t Practice

I’m starting with practice because I believe most photographers don’t practice NEAR ENOUGH on Shadows to become good at them.

As important as Shadows are to a convincing Composite, let’s face it, they are not glamorous.

Many photographers who are Compositing, and I’m even talking about some well known Composite Photographers, reduce their need to create Shadows by pulling in close on the subject and simply Compositing in a different background.

I even did it on my first couple of Composites.

composite of taren ulsrud and rock-n-roll marathon in dallas, tx

composite of royse city basket ball player emily pratt

If you want your Composites to stand out and be different, however, you’ve got to start practicing creating Shadows.

We Don’t Observe

How many times have you just taken the TIME to Observe what Shadows look like?

Odds are, not much.

If you want to create realistic looking Shadows using Photoshop, you’ve got to know what real shadows cast by different objects look like during a variety of lighting scenarios.

Look around you and Observe what Shadows look like on cloudy days, on sunny days, during sunset and sunrise, when it’s straight up noon, and even during the night.

I recommend you start a photo library of shadows you can refer to when creating your own Shadows in Photoshop.

Shadows are Hard

From my experience, Shadows are one of the hardest, if not the hardest, element of Compositing.

Making Shadows even harder, there are a variety of shadows cast by any element, each with their own characteristics and tones.

For example, you have Shadows cast by the lighting source that feather in lightness and blurriness as they move further from your source, you have Shadows cast by the ambient light raning in tone, and you have Shadows cast by the contact of the source to the ground, which if done incorrectly will make your source look like it’s floating in air.

My Simple Shadow Fix

Enough about Shadows, I want to talk to you about my Shadow issues and how I went about fixing them.

Following every Portrait I create I like to sit back a couple of days a look at it, looking specifically for any details I might have missed or messed up.

For my Family Portrait called “Kitchen Chaos”, I had a problem with the foot of Lori, the mom, that felt like something wasn’t quite right. After a day or two, I realized her foot looked like it was floating, which made her look like she wasn’t grounded.

So I quickly and easily made a Shadow fix, and all was right with the world.

You can see that fix in the Video Tutorial above.

That’s a Wrap

If you’re struggling with Shadows in your Composite Photography, trust me, you’re not alone.

To this day, and after creating many Composites myself, I still struggle with making my Shadows look convincing. But I don’t give up, and I’m always working to improve that skill because it’s the Separation Factor.

Separation Factor: The ONE thing that separates you from the average.

What are your struggles with Shadows or with Composite Photography?

Comments (2)

Still don’t like the shadow under the bread that the parrot is standing on.

The shadow on the bottom of the bread can arguably be lighter. I think the thing that could possibly bring this shadow into question is the Motion Blur, which tends to emphasize it slightly more than it actually is. That said, I believe a better argument for a shadow is adding a slight shadow on the bread for the parrots head and beak and possibly the wings. I like that idea.

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