Why Use Drop Shadows?


Today’s Question: Why would someone put a drop shadow on a print? I’ve never heard of this.

Tim’s Quick Answer: A drop shadow can add a sense of dimension to a photo, so that it seems to be suspended over the paper. However, it should be noted that many consider the drop shadow to be a somewhat dated effect, and many designers insist it should never be used.

More Detail: A drop shadow is an effect whereby a shadow seems to be cast behind an image element, such as having a shadow around a photo on the printed page. The shadow creates something of a three-dimensional effect, where the image seems to float over the page. A drop shadow can also help make an image stand out better, such as to help frame up a relatively bright image printed on white paper.

While a drop shadow effect can add a nice visual effect to an image, the effect can also be quite controversial. Many graphic designers say a drop shadow should never be used. I think the better way to think of the use of a drop shadow is that it should be relatively subtle in most cases and shouldn’t be used indiscriminately with every image.

So, if you’ve never thought about using a drop shadow, it might be best to avoid them. And if you like drop shadows, you should probably keep in mind that it is generally better to keep them relatively subtle, similar to how a vignette effect is often best when it is subtle.

But I also think that a photographer should make their own decisions about how they want to express their creativity, and so if you love drop shadows and want to put them to use with your photos, that is probably the right answer for you. Just don’t be surprised if some folks react negatively to that drop shadow, even when it is subtle.