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Spice up a Boring Background with a Shadow

Sometimes a simple background works for an image and sometimes you need to spice it up. Placing a gobo (go between)—such as a plant, blinds or a cucoloris (a device for casting shadows or silhouettes to produce patterned illumination)—will cast a shadow on a boring background. It’s best to include the shadow during the photoshoot, but here’s how you can just as easily add a shadow to a boring background in Photoshop.

Prepare the image

First, prepare the image. Enhance eyes, lips, smooth out the skin, remove blemishes and ensure the overall exposure is correct. To make my life easier, I use Perfectly Clear Complete as my starting point. You can manually prepare the image using Lightroom or Photoshop.

Adding a Shadow

Step 1: Duplicate the layer

Using keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J (Win) or Cmd+J (Mac), duplicate the layer to preserve a copy of the original image.

Step 2: Creating the Shadow effect

Choose a shadow and place it on top of the image layer. For this example, I used Window Gobos from Layer Cake. Change the layer blend mode to Multiply and apply an 8px Gaussian Blur.

Step 3: Paint out the Shadow

Apply a layer mask to the Shadow Layer. Painting in black, paint out the shadow on the subject. Duplicating the shadow layer will darken the shadow.

Examples:

Lightly painting out the shadow on the subject can also add an interesting effect. Experiment and be creative.

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