The shadow knows

May 9, 2016

By Ed Henninger
Design Elements

During the past few years—and only for certain clients—I’ve been suggesting they get away from the traditional half-point frame for photos. 

The option I recommend is a photo frame with a soft drop shadow.


A few reasons:

IT’S DIFFERENT: Not many other newspapers use this approach, so the new look makes you stand out—especially if you’re in a community where you’re competing against another paper. It’s certainly an idea to consider if you want to redesign.

IT’S APPEALING: Readers may not be able to articulate the difference, but the soft shadow tends to make your photos just a bit more friendly, more comfortable to look at.

IT’S MORE ‘FEATURISH’: Some editors might think the soft shadow takes away from the impact of a hard news photo, such as a fire or an auto accident (or the mug shot of a serial killer!). That’s OK—you can drop the soft shadow on such photos, if you wish. But for most photos in community newspapers, a soft shadow frame will do just fine.

IT’S THREE-DIMENSIONAL: The soft shadow helps push the photo off the surface of the page, giving the photo a bit more impact. The half-point frame doesn’t do that.

Here’s a suggestion: Try the drop shadow look on an upcoming photo page or in a special section. See how it looks to you. Does it give you a feel you’d like to see throughout your entire publication? If so, you know what to do next.

And another suggestion: Don’t use the InDesign default specifications for the shadow. Those specs create a shadow that’s too dark, too big.


Specs for photo shadow

• Blending mode: Multiply.

• Opacity: 50%.

• Distance: Ignore. Offsets will create distance.

• X Offset: 0p3.

• Y Offset: 0p3.

• Angle: 135º.

• Size: 0p5.

• Disregard other options.

One last detail: If you’re placing a photo with a soft shadow at the right edge of the page, be sure to nudge it left about a pica. Otherwise, the shadow may fall out of the print area, leaving you with no shadow at all.

The soft shadow photo frame can give your newspaper a more comfortable, more friendly design. It’s worth a look.

Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at or at 803-327-3322.

If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With the help of my books, you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at © Ed Henninger 2016


ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting. On the Web: Phone: 803-327-3322.


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