Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Tutorial: Realistic Shadows

Shadows are very important in digital scrapbooking.  There isn't just one right way, but there are some things to keep in mind. Digital scrapbook pages are improved when the shadows look realistic. I am trying to improve my own shadowing skills because some of the layouts I see with excellent shadowing look so real I almost think I can reach out and feel the texture!

1.  If you use no shadows at all, your layout will be very flat.  Look around.  Shadows are natural and all around us all the time.  On a digital scrapbook page, however, we have to make them happen.  Shadows define elements on the page and help the viewer understand the layout.  Furthermore, shadows can be overdone.  If they are too big, elements float off the page in a disconnected way.  See the difference?

no shadows
good shadows

shadows too big

2.  Are you just beginning and don't even know how to apply shadows? In Photoshop Elements, the default shadows are located in the Effects panel in the upper right corner of the workspace. Make sure the second icon, "Layer Styles," is selected (circled in red in my screenshot below) and that the drop down box (circled in yellow below) has "Drop Shadows" showing, as in the screenshot.  Also notice in the screenshot the "Low" shadow icon has a white outline around it, indicating it is selected. That means if I double click on it or hit the apply button, the Low shadow will be applied to whatever element is selected in the Layers Palette.

3. The default shadows that come with Photoshop Elements are often not very good for digital scrapbooking. I usually start with the Low shadow or the Soft Edge and then edit the shadow.  To edit a shadow (or any layer style) already applied to a layer, double click on the fx icon on that layer in the Layers Palette.  (In older versions of PSE, the effects icon is a starburst.)  I've circled it in the following screenshot. In the second screenshot below, you can see the dialogue box when you click on the effects icon, Style Settings.


To learn more about lighting angle, observe shadows around you in daily life. The shadows are always opposite the light source.  And, remember, the shadows always go in one direction.  When you set the angle for one layer, it will automatically be set to the same angle for every layer.

The check boxes allow you to edit four different aspects of layer styles, so you can edit the others at the same time. I'm focusing on shadows today.

The size, distance, and opacity of shadows is determined by how large the element is, how far it is from the background, what it is made of, etc.  I've found that generally I always have to decrease the default settings.  Experiment to find what looks best to your eye. I have seen charts with suggestions for shadowing various items, but there are so many variables, you really must practice a lot and develop the eye for it.  I still haven't mastered it, so I hesitate to give specific numbers.

4. Here is one of the most helpful tips I have.  I only learned this last year, after several years of digital scrapbooking, and I wished I'd learned it sooner. Instead of applying shadows to each layer separately, you can copy and paste layer styles to several at once.  First you must apply the shadow to one layer. Then, right click on that layer -- just the layer, NOT the fx icon -- and select Copy Layer Style.

Next, highlight all the layers you want to have the same style.  Or, even include layers that you want to have a similar style.  I do that a lot because it's easier to edit from a starting place closer to what I want than start from scratch. To highlight several layers in your Layers Palette, if they are all adjacent to one another, click the first one, hold down shift and click the last one.  If they are not adjacent, click each layer one at a time while holding the Control/Command key. Then right click again on any of the layers and select Paste Layer Style.  In the screenshot below, you can see I've selected several layers and I'm about to click on Paste Layer Style.

5. Here are a few more things to keep in mind about shadows.  

Text is usually NOT shadowed. Not only do I not shadow my text, I use blend modes to make it appear more realistic, showing texture through it. 

If you want to remove a shadow (or any layer style), you can find Clear Layer Style in the menu when you right click on any layer.

To learn more about realistic shadowing, I suggest three things.  As I mentioned above, study shadows around you in daily life.  Also, study the layouts other people post in galleries. Above all, practice, practice, practice! Experiment with shadowing and you'll improve over time.  

Happy scrapping!