Shadows can be a tricky thing to paint. Especially if you are painting from photos instead of real life. In order to paint believable shadows, you must first understand how a shadow works. Note that in the photos below, I adjusted my reference pictures so they would show the needed information. Most times shadows in photos have been flattened into a solid dark mass. It all depends on your equipment and lighting conditions.
Shadow broken into parts
1. Highlight – the lightest spot where the source of light directly hits the object. The size of the highlight depends on the smoothness and hardness of the object it is on. Smoother and harder surfaces have a smaller harder highlight. On softer and textured surfaces, the highlight would be larger and softer.
2. Light side – the side of the object that is facing the light source.
3. Shadow side – the side of the object facing away from the light source.
4. Reflected light – the light that is reflected off the surface the object is sitting on (note: the reflective light will take on the color cast of the surface). It also varies depending on if it is on a light or dark surface.
5. Core shadow – is your darkest shadow area on the object.
6. Cast shadow – the closest area of the cast shadow will be the darkest.
7. Cast Shadow – the outer part of the cast shadow will lighten as it moves away from the object.
Notice how the cast shadow is reflected onto the apple. These reflections will also be more or less pronounced depending on the object’s surface hardness and smoothness. Shadows are not black. It will serve you well to set up an object with a light and observe shadows in real life. Try putting them on different colored surfaces etc.
When you study shadows from life, it gives you the ability to fill in the missing information when your picture does not have it.
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