A Study of Shadows in Photoshop: Base Shadows

In the first article of this series, I mentioned that a quick way to make any scene appear more realistic in Photoshop was to add shadows. I identified three major types of shadows that I consistently use in my artwork: direct, base, and ambient shadows. Each shadow has its purpose and each shadow (when combined with the others) helps to add realism to any scene. In this article, we will explore the Base Shadow.

Base Shadow

The base shadow is the shadow at the base of an object. This shadow is present where an object comes in contact with the ground plane. Visually, the base shadow helps to ground an object to that surface. The combination of the direct shadow and base will give the impression that the object truly exists in a scene.


The object on the left has no base shadow. The object on the right includes a base shadow.

The most obvious property of the base shadow is that it takes the shape of the base of an object. Imagine an object resting on the surface actually extends down past the ground plane. The area of the surface that is intersected by the ground place will become the base shadow.

Proper Shadow
A base shadow exists where the object makes contact with the ground plane.

Often times, the base shadow is extremely subtle. In fact, a believable base shadow is often unnoticed—which means that it can be very easy to overdo. Once the base shadow has been created, it may help to add a small amount of blur to help it extend past the base of the object. Although, adding too much blur can negatively affect the scene.

Shadow Properties
The example on the left is too large and noticeable. The example on the right is more accurate.

Note: The base shadow layer should be set to 90% – 100% Opacity. Making this shadow too light can quickly throw off the realism in the scene

Now, base shadows can become tricky to replicate when you have an irregular base, such as with a complex shape, or sphere. When working with complex shapes, the other shadows (like the direct shadow and ambient shadow) will play a larger role in grounding the object. However, it can still be effective to use a base shadow. Just be mindful of where the object actually comes into contact with the ground plane.

Tapering Shadows
The base shadow of a sphere (Top) can be very small. The base shadow of the picture frame (Bottom) exists only where the edges of the frame and stand touch the ground.

Conclusion

Now that you know more about base shadows, try adding them to your scenes. You may notice that your projects taking on a more believable quality. As you become more familiar with how shadows work, you’ll find that they become easier to replicate in Photoshop.

Additional Reading

  • A Study of Shadows in Photoshop: Direct Shadows
  • A Study of Shadows in Photoshop: Ambient Shadows (Coming Soon)
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