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Ultimate Guide: How to Photoshop Shadows in Your Product Images


example of Four different types of shadows on sunglass images.

We love shadowing in product photography. Shadows are an easy way to instantly upgrade your product photography to look as polished and professional as images you would see from any e-commerce industry leader.

But to really make your images stand out, it is important not only to understand the different shadowing options out there, but also how to apply each one to each specific type of product.

After years of adding and retouching shadows for millions of product images for some of the world’s biggest brands, we have become experts in utilizing shadowing to make products pop for e-commerce retailers.

To make it as easy as possible for you to use all the knowledge we have gathered for your own product photography, we have put everything we know about shadowing into this one ultimate shadow post.

Below you will find information about the importance of shadowing in product photography, the different shadow options to consider, how best to apply them to different types of products, and video tutorials for how to add shadows to your product images yourself.

Why Use Shadows in the First Place?

To illustrate the power of shadowing in product photography, it’s best to start with an example. Take a look at the product image below:

A pair of turle-shell sunglasses on a white background

Image without shadow floats in space, feels "off"

That is a nicely shot, professional product image. Having said that, there is definitely something missing: there isn’t anything in the image that provides a sense of space. The sunglasses are just floating aimlessly on that all-white background. That doesn’t make this a bad product image, but there is definitely room for improvement.

This is where shadowing effects come in. Shadowing, when done correctly, can transform good product images to great product images, helping you to grab customer’s attention, build your brand recognition and actually help drive product sales.

Consistent Shadows Can Help Build Brand Recognition

Ideally, you want your product images to be recognized as your product images. To reach that level of brand recognition, it is critical to be consistent with how you display your product images on your site and how you use shadows is an important part of achieving that consistency.

A perfect example of recgonizable product photography is Dollar Shave Club. They use an interesting product setup and natural shadow on all their razor product images to create a product image style that is immediately recognizable.

A razor and box from dollar shave club product page

Dollar Shave club uses natural shadows for all their razor product photography.

Asics men’s footwear product page is a great example of consistency in product photography. Each image is shot with the product facing the same way with each product image featuring simple drop shadow to make it look like it would sitting on a shelf in a store.

a product page of mens shoes from asics

Asics is a perfect example of consistency in product photography.

Revision Skincare is using reflection shadows for their product images which fit nicely with the sleek and simple design of their bottles. Again, their consistent use of a reflection shadow helps build their brand recognition.

a product page of black product bottles with reflection shadow

Revision Skincare uses reflection shadows for a sleek, refined looked.

It doesn’t take more than a glance to notice just how powerful consistent shadowing can be and why these brands go the extra mile to use shadowing in their images.

If you aren’t currently using shadowing, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that your images are bad. But they can almost certainly be improved, and relatively easily, by utilizing shadowing effects.

And even a small improvement in your product images can have a big impact on your business by helping drive more sales.

Shadows Help Create Product Images That Drive Sales

By adding shadows to your product photography, you add a sense of space, context and realism to the image. And that extra realism can actually have a big impact on how well your product images drive sales for your business.

As we discussed in our post More Product Images Drive More Sales, there is research showing that consumers not only use images to examine products, but also to assess how trustworthy a brand is. The higher quality the images are that you provide for your customers, the more trustworthy they will perceive your brand as being, and that increases the likelihood that they will make a purchase from you.

But before you whip out your camera and fire up Photoshop, it is important to understand the different types of shadowing effects most commonly used in product photography and which effects are best for which products.

An Introduction to the 3 Types of Shadows

As you may have noticed in the examples above, in product photography, there are three primary types of shadows you will want to consider:

  • Natural Shadow
  • Drop shadow
  • Reflection shadow

In order to decide which one to use, it is important to consider both the type of product you are shooting and your photography setup.

Natural Shadows

A natural shadow lighting setup

A natural shadow lighting setup

After minimal adjustments

After minimal adjustments

A natural shadow is exactly what it sounds like: it is the shadow that your product would naturally cast if placed in direct light.

One advantage of a natural shadow is that it is one of the easier shadowing effects to achieve. If you know ahead of time that you want to use a natural shadow, you can setup your environment with one light source (and perhaps one reflector panel on the “darker” side) and capture the shadow from the product, resulting in a shadow effect without any post-production work.

The one exception to the ease of natural shadow is jewelry products. When photographing jewelry, it’s harder to create a natural shadow just by utilizing lighting techniques. In these instances, post-production work can help create the desired appearance of your jewelry (we show you to do that step-by-step below).

Whether you capture a natural shadow while shooting or add it in during post-production, natural shadows can look incredibly subtle and becoming when done correctly.

Drop Shadows

Drop shadows give the illusion that a product is being photographed from above by imitating the shadowing that occurs when direct sunlight is shining down on an object. This helps add a bit of context to your image as opposed to your product appearing to float freely on an all-white background.

a steel chair on an all white background.

Drop shadows for furniture images give customers a more realistic visual of the product.

Drop shadows are particularly nice for products like furniture because it gives the customers the illusion the product is sitting on a surface, just like it would be in their home. Drop shadows are also great for shoes because shoes are normally displayed in a brick-and-mortar store sitting on a non-reflective shelf.

Reflection Shadows

Reflection shadows are a dramatic shadowing effect that provides a refined look by making your product appear that it is sitting on a reflective surface.

Reflections shadows are great for adding a sense of realism to products you might imagine appearing in a display case or reflective shelving like sunglasses, watches, and jewelry.

turtle-shell sunglasses on a white background with a reflection shadow

Reflection shadows on products like sunglasses create a refined look.

To save you time in post-production, be sure to control your lighting to avoid reflections or light spots that might appear on your product. Those are removable in post-production, but you can save yourself some time by setting up your environment using our guide on how to photograph highly reflective products.

Once you have chosen the type of shadowing effect you want to use consistently across your store, you want to make sure you are applying your shadows following best practices based on the type of product you are applying your shadows to.

But first, there is one additional consideration relating to your creative operations: how can you begin to use shadowing in your product photography without adding additional retouching time to each image?

How to Achieve Professional Shadowing Without the Additional Retouching Time

There is one drawback to adding shadows to your product images: they do require additional time in post-production to achieve. That means additional time for your retouchers to spend editing product images. And if you are producing hundreds or thousands of product images, that can be a lot of extra overhead for your creative operations.

A potential solution to this is to outsource your image-editing to a company like Pixelz. We have retouched and added shadows to literally millions of images for some of the largest retail and e-commerce brands in the world.

Shadowing, Made Easy.

Use the most popular, most reliable, most efficient product image editing company in the world.
  • 30M+ images retouched
  • Next morning delivery
  • 10 images edited free

Outsourcing your shadowing to Pixelz means that your team can upload tens, hundreds or thousands of images to us in an afternoon and get perfect shadows on each one by the time they come into the office the next day. This way you get all the benefits of professional shadowing without the additional overhead of your team spending hours doing it themselves.

You can try Pixelz for free right now. Just sign up with us and we will give you 10 free images to tryout our software and service.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Adding Every Shadow Style to Every Product Type

Below, we have provided step-by-step instructions of how to apply every type of shadow to every type of product.

If you want to jump around through the guide, you can jump to a specific product by using the navigation below:


Sunglasses

Natural Shadow

Sunglasses-Natural Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Create a new layer and fill it with a white background.
  2. Move your newly-created white layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
  3. Duplicate the sunglasses layer that you have two sunglasses layers.
  4. Make a tight selection around just the sunglasses and refine your selection’s edges to be less harsh.
  5. Create a mask from your selection. Depending on whether you select the background or the sunglasses themselves in your selection, you may need to invert your mask to make sure that the sunglasses are what shows instead of the background.
  6. Change the duplicate sunglasses layer to “multiple” in the top left tab of the layer dialog box.
  7. Create a mask layer on your middle sunglasses multiplied layer and Pixelz by brushing away around the sunglasses except the shadow under the sunglasses so that is all you see. Use a feathered brush to keep everything smooth.
  8. Flatten your layers.

Drop Shadow

Sunglasses-Drop Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Create a new layer and fill it with a white background.
  2. Move your newly-created white layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
  3. Make a tight selection around just the sunglasses and refine your selection’s edges to be less harsh.
  4. Create a mask from your selection. Depending on whether you select the background or the sunglasses themselves in your selection, you may need to invert your mask to make sure that the sunglasses are what shows instead of the background.
  5. Make an oval selection around the base of your sunglasses.
  6. Using the oval selection, create a new curves layer underneath your sunglasses layer.
  7. Adjust the curves so that your selection becomes very dark and feather the edges.
  8. Select a very feathered brush at 30% opacity and brush around the edges of your selection to form a nice fall off shadow.
  9. Make certain that the areas directly under the sunglasses’ eye frames are darkest and that the shadows lighten from there. If the shadow seems too dark, lighten the layer’s opacity.
  10. Flatten the layers.

Reflection Shadow

Sunglasses-Reflection Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Create a new layer and fill it with a white background.
  2. Move your newly-created white layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
  3. Duplicate the sunglasses layer that you have two sunglasses layers.
  4. Make a tight selection around just the sunglasses and refine your selection’s edges to be less harsh.
  5. Rotate your duplicated sunglasses layer 180 degrees (upside down, vertically). You should now see two pairs of sunglasses between the two layers: one right side up and one upside down.
  6. Align the bottom of the sunglasses together so that it looks like the upside down pair of sunglasses looks like a reflection of the pair that is right side up.
  7. Add a mask to the upside down sunglasses layer and utilize the gradient tool. Play with this tool until you get the desired look that you want to achieve. Make sure that the most opaque part of the sunglasses is nearest to the eye frames of the right side up sunglasses and that the least opaque part is farthest away from the sunglasses. This will help to create a natural reflection that falls off the farther it is from the subject.
  8. Brush out the sides and top of the sunglasses around the reflected sunglasses’ base. Continue to tweak your reflection, brushing out more or adding more back in to make it look most natural.
  9. Flatten the layers.

Furniture

Furniture-Natural Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

For your convenience, we have also included written directions below:

  1. Duplicate the chair layer so you have two layers of the same image.
  2. Make a new empty layer and Fill it with a white background. Then move it below your first layer.
  3. Use the magic wand tool to select the white background of your image.
  4. Refine the edge of your selection by smoothing out your transition by about 25 points.
  5. Make a layer mask on your top chair layer and invert your selection so you will just see the chair and no background.
  6. Duplicate this chair layer with your new mask selection.
  7. On the bottom chair mask, use a soft feather brush and “paint in” the ground of the background shadow. You can play around with the opacity of your brush strokes on how much you want to bring back in and how dark you want it to appear.
  8. Flatten all layers to create your final image with a natural photographed shadow.

Drop Shadow

Furniture-Drop Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Use your selection tool to select the white background of your chair image. Refine the edge of your selection by smoothing out your transition by about 25 points.
  2. Make a layer mask on your chair layer and invert your selection so you will just see the chair and no background.
  3. Make a new layer and fill with white and place as your background layer behind your chair layer.
  4. Adjust your chair to center it and allow for room for your shadowing and additionally mask out any other things from your background.
  5. Duplicate this chair layer with your new mask selection.
  6. On the bottom chair layer with mask, transform this layer by flipping it vertically. It should now look upside down.
  7. Transform and turn your chair to make the back leg lined up to it’s matching one.
  8. On this layers mask, use the gradient tool to make the legs taper from more visible to less visible. This may take some time playing with it to find the right opacity and gradient.
  9. Use your brush to tweak your mask and brush out all of the other legs and unnecessary objects in the frame other than that one leg.
  10. Play with the opacity and brushing out to make it seem more natural.
  11. Duplicate this layer and move it to your other back leg of your chair.
  12. Using your straight selection tool, make a diamond shape under your chair between the legs points.
  13. Refine the edge of your selection by feathering it a lot to allow for a nice gradient. Brush in some of the sides to allow for a nice fall off under your chair.
  14. On the front two legs, make a slim “v” shaped selection. Refine this edge and feather your selection.
  15. Create a curves layer and darken it so it looks like a shadow. Do this for both legs in the front.
  16. Flatten your layers and save your new file.

Reflection Shadow

Furniture-Reflection Shadow< from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Duplicate the chair layer so you have two layers of the same image.
  2. Make a new empty layer and Fill it with a white background. Then move it below your first layer.
  3. Use the magic wand tool to select the white background of your image.
  4. Refine the edge of your selection by smoothing out your transition by about 25 points.
  5. Duplicate this chair layer with your new mask selection.
  6. On the bottom chair layer with mask, transform this layer by flipping it vertically. It should now look upside down.
  7. Starting with one leg at a time, line up one leg to it’s rightful match.
  8. Transform and turn your chair to make the leg lined up to it’s matching one.
  9. On this layers mask, use the gradient tool to make the legs taper from more visible to less visible. This may take some time playing with it to find the right opacity and gradient.
  10. Use your brush to tweak your mask and brush out all of the other legs and unnecessary objects in the frame other than that one leg.
  11. Play with the opacity and brushing out to make it seem more natural.
  12. REPEAT this process for all four legs.
  13. Flatten all layers to create your final image with a reflection shadow.

Jewelry Products

Natural Shadow

Jewelry-Natural Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. First start with a layer of your jewelry image and then a layer with a white fill background behind the jewelry image. Now select the white area around your jewelry image to mask out the jewelry from the background. And make sure to refine your edges so it has a smooth transition.
  2. Select a small area around the bottom of your jewelry. This will be the darkest part of the shadow. Refine the edge of your selection very carefully to create a soft, curves layer. Now, darken that adjustment to give it a dark oval under the bottom of your piece of jewelry.
  3. Select a “talk bubble” around the space just to the right of your piece of jewelry and refine that selection to be very soft. Make a curves layer, and then darken it to match your tiny shadow.
  4. Last, brush out parts of your adjustment to make a smooth gradient from dark to black. And then adjust the opaqueness if needed to make it look more realistic.

Drop Shadow

Jewelry-Drop Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. First start with a layer of your jewelry image and then a layer with a white fill background behind that jewelry image. Now select the white area around your jewelry image to mask out the jewelry from the background. \ Then, refine your edges so it has a smooth transition.
  2. Duplicate your product layer and make a selection of your product. Fill this selection with 50% grey.
  3. Next, blur this layer to however you would like to make your shadows look—more dramatic and harsh or softer, more even shadows.
  4. Last, make a mask on your shadow layer and brush out the top portion of the top of the product and the top portion of the bottom of the product. You will notice there is only a shadow on the parts of your product that would be “touching” the ground. This helps make your jewelry look very realistic.

Reflection Shadow

Jewelry-Reflection Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. First, start with a layer of your jewelry image and then a layer with a white fill background behind that jewelry image. Now select the white area around your jewelry image to mask out the piece of jewelry from the background. Then, refine your edges so it has a smooth transition.
  2. Duplicate your jewelry layer and transform your layer vertically so it is a mirrored image to your original. Position it directly below your product so it matches up to the bottom.
  3. Add a faded gradient mask to your reflection layer so it looks as though it is fading off into the ground. Now add a little blur to your reflection layer so it isn’t as sharp as your product layer.
  4. Last, make your jewelry stand out and look even more realistic: Add a tiny shadow below the bottom of your product by adding a feathered selection curves and make it darker. This allows your jewelry to feel grounded.

Adding shadows to your jewelry product images can really help elevate your brand. Plus, it helps make all of your jewelry truly shine online, ultimately making your products more appealing to customers and one click closer to making a purchase.


Handbags

Natural Shadow

Handbags-Natural Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

This video tutorial will show you how to properly create natural shadows in your product images. For your convenience, we have also included the written steps below:

  1. Create a new layer and fill it with a white background.
  2. Move your newly-created white layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
  3. Duplicate the purse layer that you have two purse layers.
  4. Make a tight selection around just the purse and refine your selection’s edges to be less harsh.
  5. Create a mask from your selection. Depending on whether you select the background or the purse itself in your selection, you may need to invert your mask to make sure that the purse is what shows instead of the background.
  6. Change the duplicate purse layer to “multiple” in the top left tab of the layer dialog box.
  7. Create a mask layer on your middle purse multiplied layer and Pixelz by brushing away the background except the shadow under the purse. Use a feathered brush to keep everything smooth.
  8. Flatten your layers.

Drop Shadow

Handbags-Drop Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

This video provides step by step instructions to add a drop shadow into a product image, but if you would rather follow written steps, we have also included them below.

  1. Create a new layer and fill it with a white background.
  2. Move your newly-created white layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
  3. Make a tight selection around just the purse and refine your selection’s edges to be less harsh.
  4. Create a mask from your selection. Depending on whether you select the background or the purse itself in your selection, you may need to invert your mask to make sure that the purse is what shows instead of the background.
  5. Double click the purse layer so that the “Layer Style” window pops up.
  6. Check the “drop shadow” box. A shadow will appear.
  7. Tweak the opacity of the shadow until it best suits your aesthetic preferences.
  8. Change the angle in which the shadow falls until it matches the direction of light that you can see on the product. Pay special attention as well to the distance from the shadow to your product and the size of the shadow. All of these will be determined by the direction, distance, and angle of your light source.
  9. Select “OK.”
  10. Flatten the layers.

Reflection Shadow

Handbag-Reflection Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

If you like the look of the reflection shadow in the image above, you can learn how to create your own by watching this video and following the written steps afterwards:

  1. Create a new layer and fill it with a white background.
  2. Move your newly-created white layer to the bottom of the layer stack.
  3. Duplicate the purse layer that you have two purse layers.
  4. Make a tight selection around just the purse and refine your selection’s edges to be less harsh.
  5. Create a mask from your selection. Depending on whether you select the background or the purse itself in your selection, you may need to invert your mask to make sure that the purse is what shows instead of the background.
  6. Rotate your duplicated purse layer 180 degrees (upside down, vertically). You should now see two purses between the two layers: one right side up and one upside down.
  7. Align the bottom of the purses together so that it looks like the upside down purse looks like a reflection of the purse that is right side up.
  8. Add a mask to the upside down purse layer and utilize the gradient tool. Play with this tool until you get the desired look that you want to achieve. Make sure that the most opaque part of the purse is nearest to the bottom of the right side up purse and that the least opaque part is farthest away from the purse. This will help to create a natural reflection that falls off the farther it is from the product.
  9. Brush out the sides and top of the purse around the reflected purse’s base. Continue to tweak your reflection, brushing out more or adding more back in to make it look most natural.
  10. Flatten the layers.

Footwear

Natural Shadow

Footwear-Natural Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Open your original shoe cut out image in Photoshop or similar, and then create a duplicate layer from the cut out. Transform your duplicated shoe 180 degrees vertically so it looks upside down.
  2. Move your reflection layer behind your shoe layer and begin to mask out the background of your shoe layer. You will notice the background reflection shoe showing through. Refine this mask so you can’t see any white ground on the bottom of the shoe.
  3. Position the shoe so that the points of the sole are touching. Remember, a reflection is just a mirrored image of your object; all parts of the shoe may not touch.
  4. Use the opacity slider on the reflection layer to get the desired effect. You can play with this a little, but remember not everything should be super clear because a reflection is very faint compared to the product.
  5. Add in a gradient mask to your reflection so it fades off at the bottom. Make sure to refine any areas that look different.
  6. Lastly, add a slight curve on the bottom half of the image to allow the shoe to be grounded. It helps the reflection look more realistic and professional.

Drop Shadow

Footwear-Drop Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Open your original shoe cut out image in Photoshop or similar.
  2. Double click your shoe layer and a layer style box should pop up. Select ‘drop shadow’ and adjust your settings to give the desired shadow you want.

Reflection Shadow

Footwear-Reflection Shadow from Pixelz on Vimeo.

  1. Open your original shoe cut out image in Photoshop or similar, and then create a duplicate layer from the cut out. Transform your duplicated shoe 180 degrees vertically so it looks upside down.
  2. Move your reflection layer behind your shoe layer and begin to mask out the background of your shoe layer. You will notice the background reflection shoe showing through. Refine this mask so you can’t see any white ground on the bottom of the shoe.
  3. Position the shoe so that the points of the sole are touching. Remember, a reflection is just a mirrored image of your object; all parts of the shoe may not touch.
  4. Use the opacity slider on the reflection layer to get the desired effect. You can play with this a little, but remember not everything should be super clear because a reflection is very faint compared to the product.
  5. Add in a gradient mask to your reflection so it fades off at the bottom. Make sure to refine any areas that look different.
  6. Lastly, add a slight curve on the bottom half of the image to allow the shoe to be grounded. It helps the reflection look more realistic and professional.


Whew! That’s a lot of information on shadowing, but hopefully you have a pretty idea of what shadowing options are available to you have how best to use them to make your product photography as professional as possible. If you’d like to see how easy it is to add shadowing for your images with Pixelz, you can sign up for a free trial and we will edit 10 of your images for free.