Creating Dynamic Drop Shadows in Photoshop
Creating simple but dynamic drop shadows in Adobe Photoshop is useful when displaying a rectangular, two-dimensional object that you want to pop out from the background.
Take a look at the following example. The version on the left has no drop shadow, so the business card looks very flat and blends into the rest of the image. Adding even a subtle drop shadow (as seen in the version on the right) makes the foreground object stand out a lot more.
Let’s try to create the drop shadows shown in the picture below.
#1 – middle of the bottom edge
#2 – bottom edge of the lower left and right corners
#3 – entire lower right corner
To begin, fill the Photoshop canvas with a neutral gray color. First change your foreground color to gray, and then select the Paint Bucket Tool.
Now, let’s create a simple drop shadow as shown in Option #1. Select the Rectangle Tool.
Create a solid white rectangle. You can change the color of the rectangle by double-clicking this icon on the desired layer in your Layers panel.
Next, create a new blank layer by clicking the “Create a new layer” button in the Layers panel.
Then, set your foreground color to black and select the Brush Tool.
Right-click on the canvas. In the window that pops up, set the brush “Hardness” to a value of 25%.
Now, click on that empty layer that we just created and then click once on the canvas. You should end up with a spot that looks something like this.
Use the Transform Scale option (Edit> Transform> Scale) to vertically compress the resulting spot so that it looks like this:
Let’s grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool.
Now select and then delete the upper section of the spot.
Now we’ll select the Move Tool.
Move this “trimmed” drop shadow under our rectangle.
We don’t want this shadow to be completely black, so let’s set the opacity to 20% from the Layers panel.
The final version should look like this:
Now let’s create Option #2, creating the impression that the lower corners of the rectangle are raised.
We’ll carry out all the same steps, up to the part where we remove the top part of the elongated drop shadow. So we have something like this:
Now select the Eraser Tool.
Right-click on the canvas and set the diameter to 35px and the hardness to 0%. Your exact settings may vary, but it’s important to use a soft edge here so that the shadow isn’t sharply defined. The idea here is to simulate an “omni” light source such as sunlight as opposed to the sharply outlined shadow from a desk lamp.
Erase only the left side of this shadow. This gives us a drop shadow that we’ll use on one of the corners of the rectangle.
Move this shadow to the lower left corner of the rectangle, and set the opacity to 20% just like last time.
Now you’ll need to create another drop shadow for the lower-right corner. To do this, copy the layer with the left corner shadow. Right-click the layer and select “Duplicate Layer.”
Select this new layer and then select the menu item Edit> Transform> Flip Horizontal. Move this flipped shadow to the lower right corner of the rectangle. Now we’ve got a rectangle with a drop shadow at the lower edge of each bottom corner.
To create Option #3, we create a shadow under the lower right edge of the rectangle much like we did in Option #2.
We want this one to look as though the entire lower right corner is slightly elevated. Duplicate the “shadow” layer, flip it vertically (Edit> Transform> Flip Vertical), and then rotate it 90 degrees clockwise (Edit> Transform> Rotate 90 CW).
Now simply move the rotated drop shadow to the right corner. The finished product should look like this:
Feel free to experiment with different levels of brush hardness and layer opacity to achieve different shadow effects.