I was curious to know if there are any resources, books, blogs that focus on perfecting object shadowing and lighting with Photoshop and/or Illustrator? I have and know how to do basic shadowing and lighting but it is an area I know I need to improve and I would like to know some resources I can review or hopefully learn from. Studies are welcome, too.

3 Answers 3


This might be a little aside, but I feel this might be an interesting addendum to your Q.

Here is an interesting thing.

  • With pencil and paper, you draw shadows.
  • As soon as you get into the 3d digital, you draw with light.

This might seem silly-obvious, but it is a pretty big mental leap. I think why digitally created shadows often look a little weird is because of this. You choose light sources, intensity, angle etc. and you need an extremely well developed idea of light, refraction, texture, angles, intensity etc.

Way back when I went to art school we did a very interesting experiment. The object was, in this case, a badger skull we had (skulls are great practice):

  • first, we drew the skull with normal pencil on white paper.
  • then we drew the skull with white pencil on black paper.

So, the difference between drawing light and drawing shadows was surprisingly tough. To see the gradients of shadows and replicate this is reasonably easy. To see the gradients of light: not so simple. I suppose this is a very deep study of negative space.

This might not seem wildly relevant to your Q, but I am trying to point out the way we see things: you do not only need to see shadows, but on a fundamental level, you need to see light also. An ability to see light is actually quite tough to develop, but I believe a lack of this often results in not-very-elegant digital images. We almost seem hard-wired to focus on shadows. After all, we use shadows to determine the shapes of things, the depth of field around us.

If you are not working with 3d (such as in illustrator) where you choose light sources, this is still relevant.

Drawing with light, 3D: (an experiment I did in Maya)

enter image description here

Drawing with light, 2D: (my brain)

enter image description here

Drawing with shadow and a little bit of light (an experiment I did, bobcat skull) (The trick here is to determine what is between the beginning of shadow and the beginning of light. I.e., where is the threshold where the coloured paper alone IS the shape/texture. The parts where you do not draw light or shadow). It is hard to explain, but I hope you got something out of this :-S

enter image description here


I feel that lighting/shadow really do make up the most of an illustration - anyone can draw a square in Photoshop, so I found out two things that were very good towards improving my skills:

  1. Working on pen & paper drawing of real objects. Going black and white simplifies the task and lets you focus on how shadows and highlights are generated. Get this right and computer illustration will be a lot simpler.

  2. Checking out some video tutorials or "how-it's-made" from talented illustrators, to see how they work and try to steal some secrets from them (this helps the technical side of it). Have a look at this guy here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAKZru_4k8nvSwAtlkyqHoQ


One of the best ways to improve you illustration skills is to do value studies of simple (and eventually more complex) objects. You can do these with pencil and paper, special marker sets, or directly in Photoshop.

If you can draw something in grayscale, then you can draw it in color. When we draw with color first, often the colors become the focus of the work. If that is your intention, experimenting with colors like a modern Matisse, then by all means proceed. If you want to become a master illustrator, learn to draw with light and shadow by doing value studies.

Here is an example of a simple shape value study: enter image description here

One of the best videos I ever saw on value sketch illustration was produced for Gnomon School and featured the amazing Syd Mead. I couldn't find any of that content online, but this one is a decent teaser (minus the soundtrack). youtube Syd Mead Video

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