Editing product images: Creating a drop shadow

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Displaying authentic product images in your e-store is a critical step in building a strong customer base and getting shoppers to return. There are several image editing operations that help product images look authentic, professional and pop out from a screen display. One of them is adding a drop shadow to a product on a white background. Here we show you how to create a drop shadow in Adobe Photoshop. Drop shadows provide depth and contrast to a product image and help shoppers understand the product’s real size and dimensions. Please note, users following this tutorial should have at least a moderate working knowledge of the Adobe Photoshop software and adequate graphic design sense.

Creating a drop shadow in Adobe Photoshop

Separate the product (object) from its background

First, you need to cut out your product image from its original photo and place it on a new layer which does not have a background. Create a new layer in: Windows > Layer. You can make the original background invisible by clicking the eye icon next to the background layer (and view the object against a transparent background).

Create a new background

Select the background layer which you hid above in the Layers palette then create a new layer in Layer > New Layer. This will become your new background. Change the background color in Edit > Fill and choosing Color from the top dropdown menu.

Find out the correct color of your drop shadow

Shadows have a color and you can determine the color of the drop shadow by observing the color of the form shadows. Form shadows are ones which are cast within and on to an object by the object itself. Observe carefully for shadows within your product and use the Eyedropper tool to pick that color. This now becomes the foreground color (see bottom of Tool palette). Double click on this color to open the Color Picker and adjust the color to make it slightly darker and less saturated.

Creating the drop shadow

With the layer containing your cut out product image selected, click the fx button at the bottom of the Layers palette and select Drop Shadow. In the pop-up dialogue box change the color of the drop shadow to the foreground color (selected above earlier). You can experiment with the other displayed parameters. Click OK to create the drop shadow.

Create another layer from the drop shadow

Separating the drop shadow on to a new layer will help to modify it independent of the product image. Do this in Layer > Layer Style > Create Layer (click OK if any warning dialogue box appears).

Distorting the drop shadow

Select the new drop shadow layer in the Layers panel and go to Edit > Transform > Distort. Now pull the shadow ‘down to the floor’ so that it looks like your product is casting a shadow on the ground. At this point, it helps to have a good sense of lighting and photography to determine how the cast shadow would naturally look, considering factors such as the product’s form shadows and length of the cast shadow.

Make sure the shadow touches all parts of the object touching the floor. Parts of the shadow can be selected and transformed to achieve this. Under the Layers tab set the Blending mode of your shadow layer to Normal and Fill to 100%. Use the  Rectangular Marquee tool to select the shadow area to modify and then go to Edit > Transform > Distort to modify as required. Once the changes have been applied, use the Paintbrush and Eraser tools to edit shadow edges as necessary. Finally, change the  Layer Blend Mode of the drop shadow layer back to Multiply and reduced the fill back to 75%.

Making the shadow realistic

In real life, the shadow cast by your product will tend to get blurrier and lighter further away from the product. Creating an alpha channel lets you blur and lighten areas of a shadow. Open the Channels palette (Windows > Channels) and select New Channel from the palette menu. In the pop menu, keep the default name (Alpha 1) and check that the Selected Area radio button is chosen under Color Indicates.

Creating a gradient

In the Channels palette select the Alpha 1 channel. Make sure the eye icon for all the channels is visible.

Select the Gradient Tool from the Tools palette and check that the foreground color is set to black and the background color is set to white at the bottom of the palette. In the Options palette (top of application window), check the gradient is set to black-to-white and the gradient type is linear. Now set your cursor to the further point of the shadow or beyond and draw the gradient towards the part of the shadow closest to the object (product). You will now see a red gradient over your image.


You can make the Alpha 1 channel invisible by toggling the eye icon beside it. Click the top channel in the Channels palette (RGB or CMYK depending on the image’s color mode) to select the color channels and deselect the alpha channel.

Make sure the drop shadow layer is still selected in the Layers palette. Go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur. With Preview checked, select Alpha 1 from the Source drop-down menu under Depth Map. Set Blur Focal Distance to 0 and make sure Invert is checked. Set the Radius to a high number (e.g. more than 60), leave all other parameters unchanged and click OK.

Creating a layer mask

Under Select > Load Selection choose Alpha 1 from the Channel drop-down options, making sure the New Selection radio button is checked. Click OK. This will cause the darkest areas of the gradient created in the alpha channel to be selected. Now select inverse by going to Select > Select Inverse. In the Layers palette click the Layer Mask button at the bottom. The applied mask will make the shadow appear to fade into the distance.

Lighting and cleaning up unwanted shadows

You should now take a good look at your image and check that the shadows created are realistic with regard to the direction of light. For example, a light in front of your product would produce shadows behind the product. You can use the Erase tool to remove unwanted shadows and create a new layer above your object to recreate new shadows as needed. In the new layer, use the Brush tool to paint in the shadows using the shadow color. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply and adjust the opacity to match the surrounding shadows.  

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