Create A Better, More Realistic Drop Shadow In Photoshop

Jennifer Farley

You can add a simple drop shadow to any object on its own layer in Photoshop by clicking on the “Add a layer style” button at the bottom of the palette and choose Drop Shadow from the drop down menu. This opens up the Layer Style dialog box and you can choose your drop shadow settings from there. Simple. The drop shadow adds a little extra dimension to objects but it doesn’t always look particularly realistic. Most objects such as paper or photographs do not always lie completely flat so let’s take a look at how you can create a more realistic drop shadow with of a hint of a curl.

  1. Open up a photograph that you want to apply the effect to.image
  2. Create a new document which is larger in width and height than your photograph.
  3. Now draw a shape like the one below which will eventually become the shadow under the photograph. You get the best results using the Pen Tool here, but you can also make the shape using a Brush if you don’t feel happy using the Pen. The shape should be slightly bigger than your photograph.image
  4. Blur the edge of the shape by using Filter > Blur >Gaussian Blur. I used a radius setting of 4 so that you get something that looks like this.image
  5. Drag your photograph over the curl drop shadow. They should be on separate layers, with the photograph on the layer above the drop shadow.image
  6. Once the photograph is placed over the drop shadow, select the drop shadow layer and Press Ctrl + T (windows) or Cmd + T (Mac) to Free Transform. You may need to scale the curl drop shadow up or down or even skew it, depending on the effect you want to achieve. Hit Enter/Return to commit the transformation.
  7. At this stage the shadow is too dark. Make sure the Shadow layer is selected and the reduce the opacity to about 40% to make it less obtrusive. If the shadow looks too big, or the picture looks like it is floating too far above the shadow, just drag the shadow so it is sitting mostly hidden under the photograph.image
  8. Once you’ve made your drop shadow you can create different effects by transforming it. For example you can give the impression of lifting up three corners of the photo by offsetting the drop shadow horizontally and enlarging it vertically.image
  9. You can also give the impression of lifting the photo higher off the “page” or surface by showing a larger but softer shadow. Or you can make it look like the top of the photo is lifting by shortening the shadow vertically.image
  10. Finally, tilt the photograph and shadow together for a more natural look. Select both layers in the layers palette, then press Ctrl + T or Cmd + T to free transform. Then bring your mouse close to one of the corner so that it turns into a double curved arrow and drag around one corner. Press Return/Enter to commit the transformation.image

    Ta da! So it does involve a little more work than a simple layer style but you can certainly achieve some nice effects by playing around with it.