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Using Composite Photography to Create a Fantasy World

Lesson 17 of 31

Shading & Shadows on & Under Rabbit

Karen Alsop

Using Composite Photography to Create a Fantasy World

Karen Alsop

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Lesson Info

17. Shading & Shadows on & Under Rabbit

Lesson Info

Shading & Shadows on & Under Rabbit

Now that we've got the rabbit in place there are some areas that we need to add to make it more realistic. The rabbit is wearing a costume but the rabbit wasn't wearing a costume when we photographed her. We require some shadows underneath the jacket here. So if I zoom up. In this area, there should be a very subtle shadow. Now adding shading and light and adding shadows is the same method but just applied in a different way. So I'm actually going to go through this a few times in the course and this is the first time that I'm addressing it. So, I'll go slowly with it. To add shadows in a realistic method I like to use the levels adjustment layout. Now I know there's many different ways to add shadows, to add highlights. Sometimes people paint with black, lower the opacity, change the color of the shadow to match. But by doing it this way, with the levels adjustment layout it's actually picking up the tone and the color of your scene and of the element that's in there and you don't rea...

lly need to adjust the color afterwards. It's doing that for you. So we're on the costume copy layer. We need a shadow underneath it but on top of the rabbit. We don't want a shadow on the ground. So the area that I'm going to apply this is in fact above the rabbit feet. I'm going to clip this shadow to this section here. So that when I paint the shadow in, it doesn't apply to the ground next to it. So, would create a new adjustment layer. So, as I said before, sometimes people create a new blank layer and paint but we're going to create a new adjustment layer and it's going to be a levels adjustment layer. Now for those of you that have used Photoshop for a long time you may not have even realized that there's adjustment layers down there. The adjustment layers are also non-destructive. Up here, under image, adjustments. You've got the same sections here. You've got levels. That is not the same thing as an adjustment layer. If I apply levels on to my layer it's actually going to destroy the layer. It's gonna change the levels of that layer straight onto that particular layer that I'm working on. A levels adjustment layer is a smart adjustment layer. You can turn it off, you can turn it on. You can mask it, you have full control and it's not destroying any of your other layers. So this levels adjustment layer at the moment is not clipped to anything. It is sitting in between the costume and the rabbit feet so it's in between these layers. But at the moment it's not doing anything 'cause I haven't made any adjustments. Now to create a shadow or shading I go into my levels area and I'm going to bring this out so you can see it clearly. This is your shadows, highlights, mid tones section here. This area here, this bottom slider is the one that I use to create shadows and by sliding this down I'm actually taking the light out of the scene. I'm bringing, so when you're creating a shadow you are taking the light out of the scene. You are blocking the light from hitting somewhere in reality. So that is what this is doing here. My default is to take that down to the middle to the mid range there and it creates a shadow. Sometimes that's enough. Sometimes that is a dark enough shadow to paint in. But if it's not dark enough I would make that adjustment layer a multiply blending mode and that makes it darker but both of those, both those, the levels as it is and in multiply blending mode still are bringing in the color and the tone of what's underneath. So you don't need to change the color of your shadow. You've already got the right colored shadow there. So it saves you a whole lotta work trying to match it. I am going to leave it as normal mode because I feel that that shadow will be enough for our rabbit. Now at the moment that shadow is applying to the whole scene underneath the costume layer. We need to clip that just to the rabbit. So we create a clipping mask. Now the shadow is just on the rabbit. We obviously don't want that shadow to be over the whole rabbit. We just want to paint it in underneath the jacket and this is a very subtle adjustment but again it's so important to make this look real. So if we'd have photographed the rabbit with the costume on, it would have some shadow underneath. So we would invert this levels adjustment layer. Now, we can paint in the shadow where we want it. It's a mask. It's just like your layer masks. We can paint, reveal the shadow by painting with white. I'd normally turn the flow down to somewhere around 30% so that I can build it up and have my brush all the way down to naught percent hardness so it's soft edged. I'd zoom in nice and close. And all I'm doing is bringing in some shadow very subtly underneath the jacket. I can do it a soft edge. I can do two levels of that. So have a stronger shadow nice and close and then a little softer further out. Again under the scarf. And I'll turn the flow down 'cause I would want this to be very, very subtle and after I've done this I will then turn the opacity down even further. So when you're working, you work at full opacity at 100% so that you can adjust it back as you need to so you overdo the shadow and then you can pull it back. Okay, I'll turn the flow up. You can go back if you make a mistake. I feel like I don't need any shadow under the scarf now that I'm looking at it. So if I press X, I can paint back with black and it's going to erase that change but not erase it, just mask it back. And back to white, so I'm revealing the shadow. And zooming out, seeing if I need any other shadowed area. That's really the only area that we need shadow, under the rabbit. Under the neck we would need it on top of the costume. So not underneath the costume. So we'll do another levels adjustment layer there. But under the costume, it's really only where the rabbit's jacket is against the fur. I'll turn the opacity down. You'll find this is such a subtle change. Looking at it now, I feel like this shadow's too harsh and I wanna bring it in closer so I'll paint that back. It may look like nothing when you zoom out but if you do work on all the shadows for every part of your image you will find that it makes it look much more realistic. The image that I showed you of Tahlia, every single butterfly has shadows under the feet. Every single butterfly and you can see it when it's printed. You might not see it on the web so it's really important to, attention to detail is really, really important. Now that we've done that, that is the same method that I would use to paint on some shading. So that is shadow because that's a shadow that's cast from something, from the jacket. I am going to call that one jacket shadow. I would do another levels adjustment layer and this one is going to cast some shading onto the rabbit in its entirety. And at the moment our rabbit is not in a group. I have color coded some of the rabbit there though so you can color code your layers as well just by right-clicking and choosing a color. So I've chosen yellow for the rabbit. So that helps for organizational purposes. But to shade the rabbit in its entirety I can group that rabbit by choosing all of the layers and hitting that group icon down the bottom. I'll call that one rabbit. So as we work you'll find that I'm grouping, I'm labeling my layers, I'm color coding. All of this helps that when you've got hundreds of layers you can sort through them and you can work backwards especially if you take a break from your image and you come back and there's just that one little thing that you can't figure out. What is going wrong? You can come back and if it's well sorted, it's generally easier to find. So, our rabbit now in a group, we can apply a levels adjustment layer to that whole group. So its like a smart object but you've still got the flexibility when its a group. You've got the flexibility of opening it up and making all your individual changes and closing it down. Once something's a smart object, you need to go that extra step of double clicking it, opening it in a new window and then making the changes. So while it works as a group I tend to keep my images as groups. If I need to make them a smart object like I did before, that's when I do that. But, for the most part groups work very, very well. So we can apply a levels adjustment layer to the rabbit. Again, if I slide that down I'm taking the light out of the scene. At the moment it's applying to the whole scene because it is not clipped to the rabbit. So right click and create a clipping mask. Now we've got a shadow over the entire rabbit. Obviously that's not what I'm after. So as step one we invert that. Okay, if you want the short cut for invert it is, control or command, I. On the keyboard. So, our rabbit's really looking quite good in the scene but I do want to create some soft shading on the front to make it look like that light is coming from behind a touch more. Again, it's subtle changes. So bringing that to the forefront, I'll go into my brush, again I want the soft brush. Nought percent hardness, flow right down to about 10% so I can build it up. I talked about flow and opacity in a previous segment. I want to just go over that again. If I show you the difference here. When I paint. There we go, when I paint with a low flow brush and I go over something or I keep coloring it builds it up. But if I'm using the same setting with the opacity. It creates a different look and it overlaps. So while it can look quite similar you will find that it doesn't look as smooth when you're doing work like this. So usually you would stick with flow when you're trying to build something up. I turn that off. Okay. Turn the opacity back to 100%. Turn the flow down. And I'm not expecting you guys to do exactly the same settings. You can see I'm using the slider and I'm being quite approximate with it. There's no specific 10%, 15%, 20%. It's a, it's just a estimate. You know I slide it down and up and control it with the pen and if it's too harsh then I'll turn it down and if it's too little then I'll turn it up. Okay. So switching to X, switching with X to paint with white. So the shortcut to change between white and black is X. And here I'm just wanting to build up some shade and shadow on the front of the rabbit. Again my opacity over here for the adjustment layer is on 100%. Once I've created these adjustments I can turn that down and make it more subtle. And the idea of this is primarily to make it look like there's more light coming from behind. And it's giving some more three dimensional look to the scene as well. Because the rabbit is white, it can look like its dirty when we're painting this on but I'm going to turn it down. If it's looking dirty, especially when you're doing this on white it tends to because you know white, making it darker is going to look gray. We change it to multiply and then turn it down. You can see that when its turned down it's sort of much less obvious. Turning it up, this is what you can see. So I'm wanting shadow at the front and I'm leaving the light around the edges. Turning it down. Going out to full screen. Just to see how its looking. I feel there's probably too much on the rabbit leg so I can paint that back out. Okay, again a subtle adjustment but all of it works to build up the image. We can do the same thing with light but before we go into lighting I just want to do one more adjustment under the neck here. Now that's a shadow adjustment. That rabbit's neck, we need some shadow underneath on the costume. So it's exactly the same thing but we need it underneath the head. So this is my head layer. We need it underneath the head and above the costume. This is my costume layer. So we're going to clip this shadow adjustment to the costume so its in between. So levels. Turning it down to halfway. Taking the light out of the scene. Its needing to be clipped to the costume. So create clipping mask and then invert. Zoom up nice and close. There's already some shadow there on the rabbit so we're adding to that underneath. So, X. And just painting in a subtle shadow underneath the neck there. Okay, so we've got our rabbit, we've got our costume, we've got the shadows under the head, we've got the shadows under the costume. All very subtle shadows. Now we need to add some shadows underneath the rabbit's feet. So we're going to do the same thing as before. You'll see me doing this multiple times over the course. The rabbit, at the moment looks like she's floating and having shadows really grounds it to the scene. The are two levels of shadows that I do when I'm putting someone onto ground and one of them is a, I call it a sharp shadow and the other is the soft shadow. So we need to make sure that this shadow is taking place underneath the rabbit. So I've got the group here. And I've got the layer underneath. I will create a levels adjustment layer. It doesn't need to clip to anything because it's on the ground. It's on the background plate. So levels, adjustment layer and bringing the light out of the scene. Okay, now we've got a shadow over the whole scene. I'll call that sharp shadow. And I will also actually add to that sharp shadow rabbit. Now the reason for this I like to break my shadows up into characters. If I use the same layer for Alice and then I move Alice, it's going to move the shadow and then they won't link up. So if you link up your shadows with your characters then you can move them together. So this one's for the rabbit. The levels adjustment layer is directly underneath the rabbit so we can in fact link it to that particular group and regroup it later if we wanted to. I'm going to invert this layer and this being the sharp shadow, the main thing that I'm wanting to do is a very crisp, very close shadow directly under the feet. This one isn't really taking into account the angle of the light. This one is grounding the rabbit to the ground. So I still use a relatively soft brush. I might bring the hardness up to about 20%. And again my flow is down so I can build it up. My brush is small. I'm going right around the rabbit. Now the area that I'm not addressing here or not painting in is behind the rabbit. There is more light coming from behind, it's still a very soft light. So all of my shadows are very soft. They're not very harsh shadows. So, keep in mind the direction of the light when you're painting in your shadows. So I'm imagining that light's coming behind the rabbit so this shadow is just in front. And around here. Now if I was doing this shadow in grass the shadow would actually be quite different. There would be texture to the shadow. I'll just demonstrate that. I have a grass brush in my set, made from real grass, from Australia, my backyard. And in fact I made this brush in Adobe Capture which is an iPhone app and an Android app. So really, really cool but you can use a brush to actually create, help create the texture of your shadows as well. So not only can you mask back with brushes you can also use it to create texture. Now I'll create a new layer and just show you what this brush looks like. So that's the sorta texture that you would add to your shadow if your shadow was in grass. It's not, it's on a pathway. So we're not needing that but just so you know, it's really important to address texture with shadows as well and angles and things like that. Okay, so back to the sharp shadow. Finishing it off. You make a mistake, just go back to black. Paint it back out. Painting in the shadow 'round here. I've got my flow up so I'll turn that back down again. This is the first step. Zooming back out. Just to have a look. That rabbit is now more grounded to the ground but there's still no actual shadow showing the direction of light there. So if you look, I always find it helpful to just look at shadows. Look at the shadows around you. Look at the way that the light is actually playing on things. Put your hand down on something. Look at the direction of the light. This all helps to understand shadows. Shadows can be complex, there can be more than one shadow. There might be one shadow, it really depends on where the light's coming from. So for this scene, again it's quite soft. Question? No, I just seeing some questions that are definitely related to what you're talking about there. Photomaker had asked, "Are there any exercises "that you can suggest for us to figure out "where the shadows would realistically "fall on the objects given light and light direction." Yeah, yeah. So other things that you could do before you're even focused on the particular subject. I just always find it helpful to, when you're walking around, looking at shadows. I think paying more attention to the shadows that are around you is the exercise that I do that has helped me and when you're not sure. In this scene there are other ways that you can actually help yourself to create the accurate shadows. If you're photographing a background plate and you've someone on hand that can stand in place of where you're going to put your subject. You can take a photograph with them there. You'll see how the shadow works. Take a photograph with them not there so your blank background plate and use that as a reference. So use that as a reference for perspective as well as a reference for shadows. So there's many ways that can help and after awhile you start to more intrinsically paint in the shadows and understand where they sit. Would you do a different color for the shadows at all? So with levels adjustment layers they are actually, they're taking in the color that is behind. So there's actually no need to adjust the color most of the time. You can change this. You can change color. It is a levels adjustment layer so you in fact have control of the reds, greens and blues so if you do feel you need to add any blue or yellow or red you can do that. But most of the time I find, specially if I'm having trouble with color, with the levels adjustment layer not showing through enough color. If I turn that to multiply mode it actually brings in the correct color of the scene. So that's why I do it that way instead of painting with black because if you paint with black its not bringing in the color of the scene, it's actually black. You make it lower opacity, it's still black and you need to change that color. So doing it as a levels adjustment layer is bringing in all of those colors. Okay so onto the next shadow which is our shadow of the rabbit and as I said, this one's going to be quite a soft shadow. Very subtle shadow. If we look at the shadows in the scene and a lot of these shadows in the scene I have also added. So it's my imagination that has created these shadows but I've based it on them being soft, subtle, soft light, overcast light with a little bit of sunlight coming through the back but not much. So looking at the rest of the scene here, I've added some shadows to the flamingos. Very soft shadows. The direction of the shadows is that they're coming towards me. So there's more, I'm imaging more light behind. There's some rim light around the flamingos and some shadow around the rocks but again very soft shadows. So I'm trying to match all of that. When you wanna do a harsh shadow you need to be more accurate with sizing, with shape but when you're painting in a soft shadow you just need to consider how long it would be, how soft it would be and go with that. So, I'm going to create now the soft levels adjustment layer there. So the same thing, exactly the same thing. Take it down to halfway because it's a soft shadow I won't turn it on to multiply. If I was doing a harsher shadow I would change my blending mode to multiply which would make it darker. You can see it brings in more of the color from behind, so that's if you're doing a darker shadow. I'll leave it on normal for now and I'm going to call this one soft rabbit shadow. And invert that. Here I'm going to use a soft brush. Hardness, zero, flow down to about 12% at the moment. Make my brush bigger. So the first thing that I'm doing is, there'll be more shadow closer to your subject. As the shadow moves away from your subject it gets softer. So I'm painting in first. This is why I'm using a low flow brush, because I can build it up. Painting in around the rabbit here. So firstly, the feet. The feet are closer to the ground so there's going to be more shadow from the feet. Painting it in. Again I'm going darker and then I will reduce the opacity later on. So bringing that shadow so that that light is coming from behind and following it down here. As I move away, shadow becomes less. Make the brush bigger. I feel there would be some shadow underneath the rabbit. Cast down from the rabbit's body but it's not gonna be as dark as the feet because the feet are closer to the ground. Perhaps some shadow over here, coming from the hand. Some very subtle shadow here. I'm sort of following the shape of the rabbit. Haven't got much pathway to work with 'cause the rabbit's at the front of the scene. So I'm just going down to here. Now, it's too dark at the moment if we look at the shadows around it. So that's where I would turn this down. Just make it a subtle shadow. If I, I do feel maybe I want some more color from the ground so changing it now to multiply mode for that reason and turning it down. Gives me more control over the color and the gravel coming through. And I feel like somewhere around that sort of level is my shadow for the rabbit. Perhaps a bit more dark area in here at the foot. But very, very subtle shadow. If I wanted to do a strong shadow and I wanted it to be the shape of the rabbit you could do this. Now I'm going to show you. It's not gonna be what is happening in this scene but it's an important little trick. You want the shape of the rabbit. You can actually select the rabbit. Make sure it's all selected. You can select the rabbit. You can create a new levels adjustment layer while you've got the rabbit selected. You can turn that down so you're taking the light out of the scene. There you have, a shadow of a rabbit. You can resize, you can warp, you can move it down like this. So if you can change it that way. You can puppet warp the shadow as well. So that is one way of doing a harsh shadow if you have a strong light. Do you want me to do that again? I think I'll do that again. (class laugh) Alright. So, selecting the rabbit. With the, you can do this any number of ways, selecting your character but I'm just using the quick select tool to do this because the shadow does not need to be completely accurate. Can even feather the edge. However you want the shadow to look. So we create a new levels adjustment layer. Create the shadow by taking the light out of the scene with this slider. I'll move that away so now we've got this particular levels adjustment layer is the rabbit's shadow. So you can do all sorts of things with that. You can also feather in the settings here. So you can make that shadow softer. You got full control. Obviously you can change the opacity of it, you can make it a multiply. You've got full control and you can puppet warp your shadow. So what we did before, because shadows are sort of reflections on the ground they're not going to be exactly the same as how they are when they're upright. So you might need control over the direction of the shadow and it joining up with certain areas. So you got full control of your shadow. Okay. Delete that, delete that, 'kay. Back to this scene. We now have our rabbit in a costume with feet on the ground with a shadow.

Class Description

Karen Alsop is known for creating beautiful fantasy worlds through her unique compositing techniques in Adobe® Lightroom® and Adobe® Photoshop®. Whether you're a wedding, portrait, landscape or commercial photographer, this class will show you how to create beautiful and distinctive images you can offer your clients to expand your business.  

Join us for this class, and you’ll learn how to: 

  • Shoot with your composite in mind: lighting, posing and angles.
  • Choose background and subject images that will work best in the composite.
  • Learn Adobe Lightroom and AdobePhotoshop techniques to create a fantastical atmosphere.

Karen’s emphasis on creativity and imagination in her process has helped her to make a product that competitors have a hard time recreating. Karen’s beautiful, intricate work is not simply the result of vast technical skill, but rather is the careful integration of a number of elements. She puts subjects at ease and inspires them with artful direction; incorporates them into fantasy landscapes using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop and then effectively prices and markets the final product.  

Software Used: Adobe Photoshop CC 2015


Judy Mitschelen

I've found many great instructors at CreativeLive and Karen ranks right up there at the top! With her relaxed, thoughtful manner of presenting, I was immediately hooked. Her organization, clear explanations and demonstration, and on target response to questions are superb. This course covers an amazing range of skills and tricks of the trade. Whether you're interested in getting better shots to work with, better workflow at the computer, or better output at the end, Karen covers it all.

Endigo Rae

This was such an amazing class! Karen is so talented, inspiring, and such an amazing teacher. Very forthcoming and open about all of her techniques. I'm so looking forward to jumping into compositing, I feel like this is definitely something my soul desires to explore and Karen has made it so easy and accesible through her beautiful course! Thanks so much Karen and CreativeLive!


Karen is very talented and a great teacher and I enjoyed every minute of the course. But what I found to be the best part was seeing what an amazing person she is. The video of compositing the disabled children to make their dreams come true had me in tears. It has inspired me to use my talents to help others and not learn photo manipulation for self enjoyment. God bless you Karen.