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TUTORIAL | Graphic Thoughts: Creating Perspective Shadows
Posted Aug 1, 2008 - August 2008 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

Perspective—it’s one of the first things you learn about in any art class. The basic idea is that it’s the way your eye actually sees something, represented on a flat surface such as paper or a monitor. A simple example is drawing a group of objects: You represent an object in the distance by making it smaller, while making objects close to the viewer larger—make sense?

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to create perspective shadows in Adobe Photoshop CS3. The result is dynamic, but the technique is a breeze!

Step 1: Add an Image or Text as Its Own Layer
As anyone who has come into my area of the PixelPops studio knows, I own a nice collection of rare urban vinyl designer toys. So for this example, I’m going to use an image of one of my recent purchases: Pyro Smash by Joe Ledbetter. As shown in Figure 1 (below), I’ve already cut away all the white areas of my photo, so the Smash character is on his own layer, with the background being the bottom-most layer.

figure 1

If you don’t have an image to use, you can use text to follow along, as text appears on its own layer as soon as you type it.

Step 2: Apply a Drop Shadow Effect
Next, select the graphic (or text) that you want to add a shadow to in your layers palette and double click to the right of the name. You can also select the FX icon at the bottom of the palette.

This will open the Layer Styles palette. Select Drop Shadow (all the defaults are fine) and choose OK (Figure 2, below).

figure 1

Step 3: Create a New Layer
Now I’m going to show you a trick that most of you probably didn’t know existed—which is why you like reading my column, right?

Find the FX icon that got added next to the title of your layer, then right click it. You should now see a drop-down menu. Scan all the way down to the bottom and you’ll see an option that says "Create Layer" (Figure 3, below). Select this option.

figure 1

Step 4: Make Your Shadow Warp
Now take a look at your Layers palette. You should see your original object, but you’ll also see that object’s shadow is now on its very own layer! By the way, you can try this trick with a number of other Layer Style settings.

Go ahead and select the Drop Shadow Layer and press (Ctrl/Cmd+T). This will now give you the nodes on each corner to transform the shadow. Hold down the Ctrl/Cmd key and you can grab each corner independently and move it to wherever you want (Figure 4, below).

figure 1

By doing this you’ll see your shadow warp, creating a perspective shadow. Naturally, you’ll want to tinker around with different settings to achieve the look you’re trying for.

Step 5: Fade Out the Shadow
In this example, I want Smash’s shadow to be cast along the back wall (and yes, I realize that based off the camera and actual lighting it should go a different way, but hey, we’re here to learn). Once I have the shadow where I want it, I click the check mark at the top of the screen to confirm the shadow’s placement.

For added realism, I’ll generally also choose to blur the shadow a bit more (Filter > Blur > Guassian Blur, then choose whatever setting looks right to you). I tend to give it a slight blur, but nothing too over the top.

One last thing I like to do, which adds a little more realism, is to fade out the shadow very lightly to areas farther away from my object. I do this by selecting the shadow layer and adding a mask to it (Figure 5, below) using the icon at the bottom of the layer that looks like a square with a circle in it (the blue circle in Figure 5). I will then choose my Gradient Tool (the red circle), make sure my foreground color is black (the yellow circle), and drag from the top of the shadow (near Smash’s fist) diagonally down to his belly button. This will fade out the shadow slightly near the upper area, giving a more realistic feel, as though the shadow is fading into the distance.

figure 1

Step 6: Link Each Object and Its Shadow Layer
Also, if you’re going to be moving your object around, it’s probably best that you link your object and its shadow layer together. To do this, simply select each layer and choose the chain icon to "attach" them together. That way, when you move the object, its shadow will go along for the ride!

As always, if you see an image that you wonder, "How could I do that in Photoshop?" email me at lance at pixelpops.com and I’ll try to make a tutorial out of it. You can see my final design in Figure 6 (below).

figure 1

Lance Gray (lance at pixelpops.com) is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas, simply email him.

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