• Login
  • No products in the cart.

Post Production: How to Create a White Background and Keep the Original Shadows

Post Production: How to Create a White Background and Keep the Original Shadows

About the Author of this Post Production TutorialID_NENAD_sm

My name is Nenad Veljkovic. I’m a father of two, now adult children, that I also made interested for Photography and Post Production, at least in the hobby level. Photography was also my hobby and partially a job during my youth. I especially love portrait and Life (street) photography and, for a long time,  I’m photographing numerous scenes from the streets of my home town Belgrade. In the early eighties I wrote articles for our first foto magazine (themes about wet processing techniques) in analog photography. Also, I was very interested in Ansel Adam’s Zone system. I continued with same interest in digital photography, following modern trends, especially processing in Photoshop, with special interest on selections.

Since 1995. I have been working for one of our computer magazines for which I write articles about various aspects of processing in Photoshop. Now, in my fifties, I became interested in Tabletop photography, but this became a passion after  I was introduced to the work of Alex Koloskov, whose lessons and reviews I find very useful for any serious progress.



The Original and Final Image on White with Retained Shadows

Post-production in photoshop online lessons: beforePost-production in photoshop online lessons: after


How to Make an Absolutely White Background and Keep the Original Shadows

When you get a correctly exposed pictured object, this also means that we want all the bright parts on that object to have details at the highlighted areas. If we succeed in that, almost definitely the current “white” backgrounds will also have some of the details, and sometimes we don’t want that. Therefore, the background will not be absolutely white. However, sometimes a correct picture demands an absolutely white background (for some catalogs, for example).

On the other hand, it is sometimes necessary to maintain the original shadows on the picture. Simple shadows are easy to simulate in post production, but there are some that are more complex, that represent the true gradients from completely black to light gray. If at the same time objects have more complex forms, it will be quite tedious to digitally simulate these shadows. It is, after all unnecessary, especially when the original picture already has them all. So we need to extract them, somewhere before the final steps. In this article There are 3 Steps and (11) Processes which are part of the steps

The Steps of this Process Are:

  • Step 1Extracting the Main Object(s) to a New Layer

  • Step 2 – Extract the Shadow(s) on a New Layer

  • Step 3 – Creating a New Absolutely White Layer and Make the Ultimate Combination of Three Key Layers – a “Separate Object”, Shadow, and White Background.

The Original Image without Post Production

Post-production in photoshop online lessons: before




Step 1- Extracting the Main Objects

(1) The main object(s) must be previously isolated from the background by using some of the selection tools. We recommend the Pen Tool. Holding the CTRL key and clicking on the resulting Path gets the active selection. The Selection parameter Feather should be set to the value of the 0.3.

(2) The follow step is to right-click on the selected objects and choose the option Layer Via Copy (If this option is not visible make sure that there is any active selection tool on the Toolbox).

White background and original shadow-1_sm



On a new layer (we named it “Selected objects”) there are now main object(s) separated from the original background.

White background and original shadow-2_sm

In order to match further descriptions along with the logic of this description, I draw your attention to the condition of my Quick Mask options. Double-clicking on the Quick Mask icon brings us to a form where you can see that my color indicates that Selected Areas will be highlighted in red.

White background and original shadow-3_sm



A very important note before continuing – return the focus to the Background layer

Post-production in photoshop online lesson


Step 2 – Shadow Separation

(3) With the focus on the Background layer move on to the Channels palette. While holding down the CTRL key, click on the RGB layer. We get an interesting (proportional) selection. In fact, everything is selected (!) in degree of brightness. The more an area is brighter the more that it is selected, the darker it is the selection is smaller (more transparent).

Post-production in photoshop online lesson



(4) In order to see that, we should activate the Quick Mask mode. It will seem to you that almost all of the  picture is selected (colored in red).

Post-production in photoshop online lesson: preserve shadows and create a white background



(5) Since we are interested in surfaces that are the least selected (shadows) we should invert the selection CTRL + I. In that way we come to the situation where darker areas are more selected.

Post-production in photoshop online lesson: preserve shadows and create a white background



(6) In order to reduce and limit the selection to the darkest parts (including our shadow), on the Levels form (Image / Adjustments / Levels) move the right slider slightly to the left. At this point you must experiment.

Post-production in photoshop online lesson: preserve shadows and create a white background



(7) Clicking on the Quick Mask icon again, we get a classic presented selection (marching ants). Don’t let the visual inconsistency in the selection layout confuse you. Although, somewhere where you may expect, if you don’t see the marching ants selection, don’t worry it still exists. Photoshop does not show the selection when the quantity of the selected pixels is below some extent.


Post-production in photoshop online lesson: preserve shadows and create a white background



(8) You now need to copy the selected shadow on the separate layer. Right-click on the selection and select Layer Via Copy to copy the shadow(s) on a separate layer (if this option is not visible, make sure that there is at least any selection tool active on the Toolbox palette).

(9) Then activate the option Lock transparent pixels (1) on the formed layer (preserve transparency in older Photoshop versions).


White background and original shadow-10_sm



(10) Set the foreground color to black and paint over pixels of the previous layer with Edit / Fill… / Foreground Color. If you find that the formed shadow is brighter than you want, repeat part of the process from process number (6). If we feel that the shade is too dark, you can brighten it by using the Opacity.


Post production in photoshop online lesson: preserve shadows and create a white background



Step 3 – The Formation of New, Pure White Layer, and the Correct Combination of Three Key Layers

(11) Now you just need to create a pure white new layer. It will be a new Background layer. Above that Background there will be shadow(s) copied in section (8), (Shadows layer), and on the top of the layers palette will be a layer with the main objects selected in process number (2) (Selected objects layer).


Post-production in photoshop online lesson: preserve shadows and create a white background

8 responses on "Post Production: How to Create a White Background and Keep the Original Shadows"

  1. Hi Nenad,

    Thank you for your tutorial. I am doing some product photography for m wife’s jewelry business and it is very challenging to get both a perfect white background as well as adjust the darkness of the shadow. Do you know how to adjust the shadow so that it is lighter and blends in better with a pure white background ? The shadow I have now is too dark.

    Thank you.

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad you found it usefull and that you like it!
      There are two ways to achieve shadow brighten. If you follow the instructions, pay attention to Section 6, in which states that the user should experiment a little. Use Image/Adjustments/Levels form in which the right triangle slider (below the graph) should be moved slightly to the left. Therefore, if you have darker shadows, come back to this point and move right triangle slider more to the left (more than last time, for example).
      Another method is to form a blank layer below the shadow layer and fill it with white. Then Come back to shadow layer and reduce its opacity for some percentage.
      I hope this advice was helpful.

  2. This tutorial was very helpful. Although I did have difficulty with your step 10. Would be great to see that broken down in more steps. Thanks!

    • Steve, I’m glad you think my short tutorial was helpful.
      If you understand the first 9 levels, the tenth will not be a problem. It may be that my English, or excessive shortening of the text, brought some confusion.
      You’ve seen the level 9 in which the selection from Background Layer is transferred (with Layer Via Copy) to a new layer (middle layer on the picture, or – Layer 1). As a semi-transparent content, with the color of the main image from which was taken, Layer 1 must be darkened to simulate real shadow.
      On Toolbox palete (at the bottom) are square areas with selected foreground and background colors. You must set the foreground color to black. Since the content of the Layer 1 (future shadow) is transparent, he can not be painted without prior preparation. Actually, by the content are considered only the actual pixels (Lock Transparent Pixels must be pressed) as you can see in the level 9.
      Now, with Brush tool and Black Foreground color, we can paint over the entire Layer 1, because it must simulate shadow. You can also use meny option – Edit / Fill… / Foreground Color as an alternative.
      Unfortunately, only then (and with added white Layer as a new backround), you can see whether the shadow is visible enough or not. If it’s not visible enough, you must go back to the Level 6 and move Level slider less (to the left) then the first time. The problem does not exist if the shadow is darker, because the situation can be adjusted with Opacity.
      I hope I did not further complicate existing explanation. Once again, sorry for my English. :)

  3. it’s really helpful!! Thanks a lot!

  4. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad that it helps you in your job. For a few months I wasn’t able to deal with beauty tabletop photography. I apologize for not responding earlier.

  5. Thats the most useful trick for my everyday job, its fantastic how much I will save time with this. Thanks Nenad !!!

    I have to do the same as your example but with furniture on white, since I always had to cut the products and did some “hand” shadowing under, ok, did the job but far from perfect.

Leave a Message

Copyright © Photigy Studio Photography All Rights Reserved
EXTENDED! Zero Gravity Photography course: 97% sale  Get It Now