Shadows and Reflections in Composites

Full-length composites of a model involve a little work. To prevent the "model floating in space" look, a shadow must be added. On a blank layer between the background and the model, I will paint a shadow using a large black Brush set at 20% opacity and 20% flow. To complete the effect, I add another blank layer above the model and draw a thin shadow just under the shoes. The same Brush is used, only it is of course much smaller. With the layer above the model, I am able to draw a bit of shadow up onto the bottom of the shoes if I want to. The layer opacity of each of these layers can then be adjusted. Here is an example of this technique with the beautiful Sinthu Ragupalan:

Sinthu Ragupalan at the gates of old Fort Canning, Singapore.

Sinthu Ragupalan at the gates of old Fort Canning, Singapore.

Another, fancier method of achieving shadows is to create a drop shadow of the model, separate the shadow from the model by putting it on its own layer, positioning and warping it, blurring it, then fading the far end of the shadow using a black-to-transparent gradient on a white layer mask. This can even be done twice, to give the impression the model is lit by two light sources. In this example, the shadows crisscross, with one darker than the other:

Ana Marfa composited into the lobby of a hotel in Osaka, Japan.

Ana Marfa composited into the lobby of a hotel in Osaka, Japan.

If the model is standing on a highly reflective surface, a reflection (with color) must be used for realism. This process is the same as for the drop shadow technique described above. The only difference is that a duplicate layer of the model is used, which is flipped vertically. The following example shows Sinthu in a puddle of water:

Sinthu Ragupalan composited into a scene of La Placita, Tucson, Arizona, taken after a summer rain.

Sinthu Ragupalan composited into a scene of La Placita, Tucson, Arizona, taken after a summer rain.

All this work can be avoided if the portrait of the model is from mid-thigh or waist up. Composites like this are much easier:

Ana composited into a scene from Marina Bay, Singapore.

Ana composited into a scene from Marina Bay, Singapore.