Better Drop Shadows in Photoshop

Hey everyone. It’s been a while since I posted anything other than my weekly inspiration round-ups due to time constraints etc so I thought I’d start doing some more short tuts and quick tips.

I’ve been doing a lot of designs recently for web sites and emails that feature a polaroid style image and have been experimenting with different types of drop shadow. I’ve had a good scan around lots of sites and the majority seem to be happy with Photoshop’s default setting when applying the Drop Shadow layer style but I wanted something that looks slightly different and cool.  Lets look at three different variations. This may be basic to some of you but for any beginners or anyone wanting to change up their drop shadows, read on…

Variation 1:

Image 1
Lets apply a curved drop shadow that gives the impression of space between the image and the white space and the bottom corners are turned up slightly.

Step 1: Double click the layer to bring up the layer styles window and select the Drop Shadow option. Keep all the settings at default as below:

Default settings

Step 2: Next we need to separate our drop shadow from the constraints of the layer style settings so we have more control. In your layers panel, right click on the fx icon on the layer and select Create Layers:

Create Layers
This places the drop shadow effect (and any other effects) onto their own layers. We can now move and edit the drop shadow independently from the image.

Step 3: For this variation we need to reduce the width slightly, centre it behind the image and move it down a few pixels. With the drop shadow layer selected, hit Cmd+T (Ctrl+T on Windows) and use the arrows keys to move it centrally behind the image then while holding Alt+Shift click and drag the left or right point inwards to end up with this:
Drop shadow re-size 
Step 4: Last step is to manipulate the shadow layer’s shape using the Free Transform and Warp tools. With the drop shadow layer still selected press Cmd+T (Ctrl+T) to bring up the Free Transform option then right click the drop shadow and select Warp. This then shows a grid with different transform points and we need to click on the bottom line in the middle column, hold click and drag up slightly:
Shadow free transform
Step 4: Lastly, move the drop shadow layer up or down a few pixels to suit and reduce the opacity a little. I dropped mine down to 50%. Here is the end result:
End result 
Variation 2:
Variation 2
This version is to give the impression of a slight curve with a soft shadow top and bottom.

Step 1: First up create a new layer underneath your image. You can do this by holding Cmd (Ctrl) and then click the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

Step 2: Next select the Elliptical Marquee tool (press M or hold Shift+M to cycle through until you get the elliptical marquee) and create a ellipse roughly the same width as your image but quite thin:
Elliptical marquee
Step 3: With the marquee still active, hold Shift and press the Backspace key to bring up the Fill window. Under Contents, Use select Black from the drop down and make sure Opacity is at 100%:

Step 4: You’ll end up with a solid black oval shape underneath your image at this point and you’ll see it poking out either side. From here we need to reduce the width and apply some blur. With the ellipse layer selected hit Cmd+T (Ctrl+T) to bring up the Free Transform tool and while holding Shift, click the left or right point and drag it in a little so you can’t see the shape. Once you’ve applied the change go to Filter, Blur then Gaussian Blur and select a value of around 10 pixels and hit OK:


Step 5: The only thing left to do now is position the shadow underneath your image to give that curved effect. Lastly, duplicate the ellipse layer and position this just above your image so it’s poking out the top to complete the effect:
End result
Variation 3:

For our last effect we’ll apply a really simple cast shadow to give the effect of the image standing upright:
 Cast shadow
Step 1: Create a new layer underneath your image and select the Rectangle Marquee tool to create a wide selection at the bottom of the image then fill it with black using the Fill window (Shift+Backspace):
Rectangle marquee fill 
Step 2: We need to give the black rectangle some perspective so hit Cmd+T (Ctrl+T) to bring up the Free Transform tool then right click it and select Perspective. Hold shift and select the top left or right point and drag out to give the impression of depth. After applying the Perspective transform, hit Cmd+T (Ctrl+T) again to bring up the Free Transform option and decrease the width so the bottom points align roughly with the bottom corners of the image:
Step 3: From here we need to give it a very slight blur. As this is a pseudo cast shadow and not a drop shadow, they have harder edges. Apply a Gaussian Blur of 1.5 pixels by going to Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur then drop the opacity to about 40%:
 Blur and opacity
Step 4: The last step is to give it more depth. We can do this with a layer mask and gradient. With the shadow layer selected, go to Layer, Layer Mask, Reveal All. Then select the Gradient tool (G) and make sure you have white as your foreground colour and black as the background colour. Click at the bottom of the shadow and drag upwards to the top of the shadow. This should give a fade out effect from the bottom up and give a greater level of depth. The final result:
End result
Go ahead and have a play the next time you’re adding drop shadows to elements in your designs.

Thanks for following this tut. Until next time…