Shadows are often the hardest part when creating composites. In my workshop I often get the question can’t we just take a copy of the model, duplicate that, make it black and use that as a shadow. My answer was always ‘no’ till recently. I am gonna show you a way how you can (often) use your model as a shadow.
[editor’s note: we are huge fans of Aad Sommeling. Aad is big about sharing and we are quite happy that he allowed us to share this primer, if you want to get deeper into the world of compositing, there are also a few workshops he made that will help you get started]
It works only if you take the photos of your models yourself. If you are using stock images it is nearly impossible unless the light shining on your model is coming straightly from behind the model. A friend of mine, Renee Robyn, an awesome artist, shoots often her models at a grey background and can take the shadow in the photo to the composite. This is because her composites often don’t use sunlight as the main light source. So the soft shadows she gets from the lights in the studio, she can use, but my images have almost always the sun as the main light source and the sun produces harsh shadows, not a shadow with soft edges like you get when shooting with studio lights and specially when you have a softbox in front of the light, like I almost always have. Soft shadows are easy to create, but harsh shadows are a copy of the model and follow all the lines of the model. Not an easy job to draw, so… I thought about it and came with a solution that often should work 😉
Okay, in the two image above I show you why you almost never can use the shape of the model as your shadow. I will also show it below in the composite that I created for this blog. Above you see a 3D image. In the left image the light source comes from the right and in the other image from straight behind the model.
As you can see in the left image the shadow doesn’t look like the shape of the model at all. The reason is because the light is coming from a different direction compared from where you are seeing the model. In the right image you are in one line with the light and model and here the shape of the shadow looks the same as the shape of the model. So, in this case you can use the shape of the model as her shadow.
But hardly you want to create an image with the light source straight behind or in front of the model. At least, I don’t like it. I like contrasts in a body and face and with the light straight in front or behind the model, you hardly see contrast and it all looks flat. So what if you want to have the light not coming from behind or in front of the model and use the shape of the model as the shadow. Well… take two images 😉
Shoot one extra photo to use as a shadow
First, you take the photo of your model there where you want to take the photo and after that, take another image, but now in one line with the light. So you let the model stand in the way she stood, when you took the first photo and walk around the model, till you are in one line with the model and the light. Now take another image from the model, best from below. This photo of the model you can use as a shadow.
From theory to practice
Below I explain you how i put theory into practice. I will upload the photos I used for this image to the composite set in the store so the ones that already purchased the set can download them and play with it, if they want. They will be only available for a short period.
The example below, might look complicated, cause I shot it outside what I normally never do. Important only to keep in mind is that when you shoot your photo for the shadow, in the studio or at home, that you are in one line with the model and the light source. 😉
I hope this little trick makes your life a little bit easier ;). In this article I only showed you this little trick and not all the other steps that are important when creating a composite that looks like real. If you are interested in that you can take a look at my page with the tutorials. The third tutorial is already out and more are coming.
About The Author
Adrian Sommeling is a photographer, digital artist, educator, graphic designer and web developer based in the Netherlands. With over 26 years of experiance Adrian has worked for both national and international brands and agencies. You can see more of Aad’s work on his webpage, Facebook and Twitter. You can also buy his workshops here. This article was also published here and shared with permission.