Dealing with Images on White Backgrounds

Aug 23, 2012

I read a lot of tech blogs and the majority of images feature a product or graphic on a plain white background. Since a vast majority of sites feature white backgrounds, these images can cause some odd illusions to a layout since the amount of white space around the product or graphic varies.

Microsoft Logo

I like how The Verge has dealt with this problem. They overlay a subtle inset box shadow over all of their images. It’s so subtle that you don’t notice it on images with darker backgrounds. On white backgrounds, it adds a nice vignette effect and defines the boundaries of the image.

Microsoft Logo

The markup and styling behind it is surprisingly simple. They use a div to wrap their images but I’ll use the more semantic figure element.


  <img src="path/to/image.jpg" alt="Image" />

We’ll use the :before pseudo element to apply our inset box shadow by absolutely positioning it within the relatively positioned figure element.

Note that with a larger blur value, the background appears more gray when the image is scaled down. We can use media queries for smaller viewports to make the box shadow blur smaller to preserve the vignette effect.


figure {
  position: relative;
  margin: 0 auto;

figure:before {
  content: "";
  position: absolute;
  top: 0;
  left: 0;
  height: 100%;
  width: 100%;
  -webkit-box-shadow: inset 0 0 50px rgba(0,0,0,0.1);
  -moz-box-shadow: inset 0 0 50px rgba(0,0,0,0.1);
  box-shadow: inset 0 0 50px rgba(0,0,0,0.1);

img {
  display: block;
  margin: 0 auto;
  max-width: 100%;

There is one issue that I’m coming across with making this scale down to mobile devices. For some reason, there is a disparity between the height of the figure element and the img element when the site is under 600px wide. I haven’t been able to simulate it in another environment outside of this site so I’m wondering what my theme and reset is doing to it.