STEPS: Creating a Drop Shadow

1. Select the subject that you want casting the shadow. In my case, I selected the dolphin by painting the mask shown in Figure 12-17 inside a separate mask channel. These days, I add a mask to nearly every image I create to distinguish the foreground image from its background. I converted the mask to a selection outline by Ctrl-clicking on the mask name in the Channels palette and then pressing Ctrl+tilde (~) to switch back to the composite view.

2. Send the image to a separate layer by pressing Ctrl+J. Now that the selection is elevated, you can slip in the drop shadow beneath it.

Figure 12-17: This mask separates the dolphin from its watery home.

3. Retrieve the selection outline for your new layer and apply it to the background layer. To do this, Ctrl-click the new layer name (presumably Layer 1) and then press Shift+Alt+[ to switch to the background layer. (Because I saved the mask to a separate channel, I could have instead Ctrl-clicked on the Mask item in the Channels panel to retrieve the selection. Or I could have pressed Ctrl+Alt+4.)

4. To create a softened drop shadow — indicative of a diffused light source — choose Select ^ Feather (Ctrl+Alt+D). The Radius value you enter depends on the resolution of your image. I recommend dividing the resolution of your image by 20. When working on a 200-ppi image, for example, enter a Radius value of 10. My image is a mere 140 ppi, so I entered 7. Then press Enter to soften the selection.

5. Press Ctrl+J to send the feathered selection to a new layer.

6. Fill the feathered area with black. If necessary, press D to make the foreground color black. Then press Shift+Alt+Backspace to fill only the area inside the transparency mask. A slight halo of dark pixels forms around the edges of the image.

7. Press Ctrl with the arrow keys to nudge the shadow to the desired location. In

Figure 12-18, I nudged the shadow 12 pixels to the right. (Press Ctrl+Shift+arrow key to nudge the shadow in 10-pixel increments.)

8. Lower the Opacity setting. If the shadow is too dark — black lacks a little subtlety — change the Opacity value in the Layers palette to change the opacity of the shadow. Or press M to make sure a selection tool is active and then press a number key to change the opacity. I typically press 7 (for 70 percent), but I'm probably in a rut.

Figure 12-18: I nudged this drop shadow 12 pixels due right from the dolphin head, which is situated on the layer above it.

Tip If you don't like a black drop shadow, you can make a colored one with only slightly more effort. Instead of filling the shadow with black in Step 6, select a different fore jF ground color and press Shift+Alt+Backspace. For the best result, select a color that is the complementary opposite of your background color. Next, choose Multiply from the blend mode pop-up menu in the Layers palette (or press Shift+Alt+M). This burns the colors in the shadow into those in the lower layers to create a darkened mix. Finally, press a number key to specify the opacity.

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