Cast Shadows

  • Software:Photoshop CS6  ·
  • Difficulty:Beginner

Rules of the Exercise

  • 1
    Download this exercise practice worksheet.
  • 2
    Challenge yourself to understand light and how to paint correctly lite subject matters with the use of a cast shadow. Create 3 examples of cast shadows on different subject matters.
  • 3
    Once finished, submit your exercise to be reviewed and looked over under the "Submissions" tab for grading!


  So what is a cast shadow? A cast shadow is caused from an obstruction that interferes with the direction of the light source, and that obstruction CASTS a SHADOW. The challenge is figuring out how to add values to the form of the subject matter in both lit areas and areas that fall under the cast shadow. So below is a crude example of the three terms that go in the process of creating cast shadows.

  • Light Source - This can be the sun or a source of light, and the direction of this lighting determines where it will fall on objects.
  • Obstruction - An obstruction can be anything. Literally anything is is interfering with the travel of light (hat, door, blinds, umbrella)
  • Cast Shadow - The shadow that is casted from an obstruction is called a cast shadow.


Below is the practice worksheet that you can download! You can find this on the "Downloads" tab under the header image near the top of this exercise!

For this exercise, there are three examples you are to test your skill set on.  Scroll further down to see examples of what each of these three are.

1. The first is an animated character with 2 obstructions. You know the scene set up: When a garage door is lowering or a door is slowly being closed and a sliver of light gradually decreases in size as it falls over a characters face. This should be done with the mindset of two cast shadows falling on an ANIMATED characters face. Scroll down to see see a better visual example of this.

2. The second is cast shadows that are found naturally in NATURE. You will often see leaved and branches cast shadows on itself or other foliage. This example can be found anywhere in nature on a sunny day.

3. The third is a recognizable face with 1 obstruction. This was often in in classic "film noir" films that have dramatic lighting that focuses on specific areas, usually the eyes. Your subject matter for this one should be a RECOGNIZABLE FACE, whether an actor, singer, artist, etc. and use a picture of them for reference but than ADD an obstruction of light that casts a prominent cast shadow. The best example would be to have half the face lay in shadow.

For my example sheet, I will create the following examples below. Be very aware of the directional lighting you are adding and if it helps draw a little sun to represent the lighting to always have the angle of light in mind. Don't overthink the subject matter, just pick something relevant to yourself and focus on the lighting and shadows instead. Need some visual references or examples? Check out our Cast Shadows Pinterest Board HERE



This is a more advance technique to bring to your concept work. When working with cast shadows give a few of these tips in mind.

  • When shadows fall upon skin, the transition between the light and cast shadow should be saturated to represent the skin subsurface scattering.
  • Areas in shadows are upon less saturated with cooler colors in contrast to the warm colors set from the lighting, most noticeably with sunlight
  • Don't add darkness to areas in shadow, try working with adding grey/cool hues or with desaturating the shadow.

This exercise is meant to help you out and this will give you that extra boost in your digital art with these little touches of understanding light and color!    Cast shadows are useful for suggesting elements outside of your composition, creates more interest to the scene, and sets a thematic tone to your piece. Give this exercise a go and work on improving your understanding of color and lighting to help take you that step up in your pieces! Interested in learning more? Check out the best lighting and color book I've come across. It is James Gurney's book, Color and Light! When you finish the exercise, remember to submit the result to the "Submissions" tab near the top of this exercise. You can see other submissions alongside your own!