How to Make a Realistic Shadow in Photoshop

Have you ever tried to make a mug mockup in Adobe Photoshop and spent time getting your vinyl decal or dye sub design onto the mug, put it in an amazing background where it looks like it's sitting on a table, and then the shadow ruined the whole thing? It looked super fake and maybe the mug even seemed to be floating in the image? I hate that! LOL :-)

Making a realistic shadow in a product mockup requires more than just using the drop shadow effect in the Photoshop layers palette. It actually requires a little observation about how shadows look in real life, and a few layers with some deftly applied blurring to really look convincing.

In this video tutorial, I'll show you my technique for adding a shadow underneath a white latte mug for a mockup I sell in my Creative Market shop. Click play to watch the video, or scroll down for the transcript.

Transcript of video:

In this Photoshop Quick Tip, I'm going to show you how to create your own very convincing drop shadows to put under objects in Photoshop.

I am working on this Photoshop mockup where I have a mug that I created and want to put some shadows underneath. It's going to end up looking something like this. These are the ones I've already made, but let's do it from scratch.

I'm going to click on the layer below and hit this dog-ear shape down here which creates a new layer right above the layer I have selected. That's just to get that layer underneath the mug layer. Then I'm going to go up and grab this circle which is the elliptical marquee. I am going to draw down here. I'm trying to make a shape that follows the line of the bottom curve of this mug. As I'm drawing with my mouse, if I hold down the space bar on my keyboard, that allows me to move it up and around on my page so I can really drag it into place where I need it. Now we have the basic shape of the bottom of the mug.

The next thing we're going to do is fill it with black. Go to 'Edit', 'Fill', and pick the Foreground Color which is black in my document. I'm going to hit 'Command D' on my Mac to deselect. If I turn off the mug, you can see that's what it looks like. First we're going to grab our move tool. Once that's clicked, I can use the arrow on my keyboard and scoot the black shape down. We're going to blur it. 'Filter', 'Blur', 'Gaussian blur'. We don't want to blur it too much. What we want is to have a slightly dark pretty black area right underneath the bottom of the mug, then the shadow layers after that are going to get increasingly lighter. They'll be a little bit gray here and then even lighter and lighter still, stretching out into the shadow.

Now, let's duplicate this layer. We'll drag it down onto the dog-ear to make another version. We're going to again, going to say 'Filter', 'Blur', 'Gaussian blur'. This time I'm going to make it a lot blurrier. I'm going to use my keyboard to zoom out. On the Mac that's 'Command minus', so you can see a little bit more of what's going on.

All right, that looks pretty good. The way the light is coming in, since it's coming from the left and the shadow is on the right, we're going to have our shadow be going that direction. There's going to be more shadow over here on the right side then there is on the left. Just keep that in mind. If we go in here and we duplicate this again, and then we say 'Filter', 'Blur', 'Motion Blur', then we get a more elliptical shape. This looks natural if the light was coming straight down from above. You can see there's equal shadow on the left and right side, but we're going to have it more just on the right, but first what we need to do is just make sure that we drag it. Do we want it much wider? Do we want it much closer? How far do we want this to stretch?

I'm going to do it sort of medium because I'm going to be altering this and you'll see, okay. We'll hit 'OK'. Now, what I can do is I can do transform. 'Edit', 'Transform' or 'Free transform', and you can see the keyboard command for that. I'm going to just scoot it in on the left so that the shadow really only exists on the right. I'm also going to kind of angle it a little, see how that looks. I think the light might be sort of in the front so it's going to angle toward the back. I'm going to 'Return'.

That looks pretty good. Let's duplicate it again. Hit 'Free transform' again. Stretch it out even further. Going to make it actually a little bit wider. We're going to angle it a little bit more and further. Let's see. Actually, maybe a little bit less. I don't want it up so high. Hit 'Return'.

Things are getting too dark, so let's go to the lower layers and start to lower the opacity on those. The idea is that it's very dark close to the mug, it's lighter further away from the mug. Then if I grab a couple layers at the same time by holding shift, I can again go to 'Edit', 'Free transform', stretch it out more, angle it if I want, squash it if I want, and hit 'Return'. I can continue to do that until I feel like it's looking pretty good.

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