How To Add A Shadow in Photoshop

by Oct 19, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How To Add A Shadow in Photoshop

In this tutorial, I will explain how to add a shadow in Photoshop.

Using Photoshop, it’s possible to add a shadow in many ways. A common approach is to add a shadow behind an object as if there is a light above it. Alternatively, you can place the shadow in front of the object, as if the light is behind it. You can see both types of shadow in the illustration below.

Two different types of shadow, both added in Photoshop.

The text at the top of the illustration shows a traditional drop shadow effect. To learn how to add this, see my tutorial on adding a drop shadow to text in Photoshop. In this tutorial, we’re looking at creating the other type of shadow seen in the lower text.

In this tutorial, we will add the shadow to text, but you can use the same method to add a shadow to anything, provided it’s isolated on a layer in Photoshop.

Step 1: Duplicate The Layer

The first step in the process is to duplicate the layer containing the text or object you want to add the shadow to. You can do this in the Photoshop Layers panel. First, click on the text or object layer to ensure it is selected. Then press Cmd + J on your keyboard to duplicate it. If you’re using a Windows PC, that’s Ctrl + J.

You can also right-click the layer in the Layers panel using your mouse. Then select the duplicate option in the pop-up menu.

Step 2: Set The Shadow Colour

Having added a duplicate layer, click the original layer in the Layers panel to ensure it’s selected. As we are working with a text layer in this tutorial, you will see the controls for the text appear in the Photoshop Properties panel as shown below.

Selecting and changing the colour of the text shadow

On the left side, you can see the Layers panel containing the layers in the image. This contains two layers in addition to the background. There is the original Shadow Text layer, then a copy of that layer on top. The shadow text layer was then selected by clicking it with the mouse.

We see the Photoshop Properties panel on the right side of the illustration. When the text layer is selected, this displays the controls for the Text Layer. To change the colour of the text on the layer, we click the colour Swatch (currently red). This opens a colour picker dialog, allowing you to set the colour to black.

Step 3: Invert The Text

We now want to invert the text by flipping it vertically. This will allow it to look like a shadow being cast by the other text layer.

With the original shadow text layer still selected, click on the Edit menu at the top of the Photoshop interface. Then, select the option “Flip Vertically” in the Transform sub-menu. Your image should not look like the screenshot below.

duplicated text filpped vertically in Photoshop

Here, we can see the original text, which is black and has been inverted. Then, covering this is the red text. We now want to move the black text down so that it appears below the red text as if it’s a shadow.

Select the move tool from the Photoshop tools palette to move the text. This has an icon displaying a four-way arrow and is usually the top icon in the toolbar. You should see a transform box around the text when you select this. But if you try to click on the text now to move it, you will likely select the red text sitting over it. Instead, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move the text down. When enough text box shows, you can click and drag it into position with the move tool. You can see a screenshot below of how the text should now look.

Text inverted and in position to add the shadow

Step 4: Transform the Shadow

We now need to use the Photoshop transform feature. We will use this to distort the mirrored text to look like a shadow. But before we do that, we first need to Rasterize the text layer or convert it to a Photoshop Smart Object. For this example, we will convert it to a Smart Object.

With the text layer selected in the Layers panel, click the “Filter” menu and select the option “Convert for Smart Filters”. Photoshop will then convert the text layer into a Smart Object so that we can apply Smart Filters to it. We will come back to that in a moment.

We now need to transform our text using the Photoshop Transform tools. With the Smart Object selected in the Layers panel, click the Photoshop “Edit” menu at the top of the interface. Then, in the transform sub-menu, select the “Distort” option.

You should now see a transform box appear around the text. In the corners and along the edges of the box are small squares or handles which you can click and drag with your mouse. This allows you to change the position of the text, as shown in the screenshot below.

Distorting the shadow text using the Photoshop Transform tools

You can also see the blue transform box in this shot.

Step 5: Blurring The Shadow

The shadow we’ve added to the text now resembles a shadow. We can improve this further by blurring the edges of the shadow using the Gaussian Blur filter. To do this, ensure you have the Smart Object selected in the Layers panel. Then, in the Photoshop Filter menu, select the Blur sub-menu.  There, you will find the Gaussian Blur option. When you click this, it opens the Gaussian blur dialog, which you can see below.

Adding a Gaussian Blur to the shadow in Photoshop

Set the blur Radius to a suitable level to soften the edge of the shadow. As a final touch, you can reduce the Opacity of the Smart Object in the layers panel. This will make the shadow appear more realistic.

the finished effect with a shadow added to the text

We converted the shadow text layer to a Smart Object rather than editing it to make the Gaussian Blur filter non-destructive. Usually, when you apply the Gaussian Blur filter to an image, it destructively changes the image pixels. By using it as a Smart Filter, you can reopen it and adjust the blur level should you want to.

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How To Add A Shadow in Photoshop Video

Watch the following video demonstrating two ways to add a shadow in Photoshop. The video shows the technique used in this tutorial and the drop shadow effect mentioned at the start.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

If you want to see the technique in this tutorial applied to an object rather than text, watch this video.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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