How to Add a Vignette Effect to Photos

In today’s article I’m going to show you a nice and easy way to make your photos look more interesting — a technique known as vignetting.

As with any photo editing tip, moderation is the key. If you do it correctly, you will be able to draw your viewer’s eye in to the image and create a more pleasing final composition.

What is vignetting?

Before we get started with how to vignette an image, let’s talk about what vignetting is.

It’s quite simple. An image which is vignetted has corners which are darker than the rest of the image.

Here’s an example:

Cliffs of Cape Raoul walk tasmania 2 - scaled Cliffs of Cape Raoul walk tasmania 2 - scaled - scaled

Photos via Laurence Norah, findingtheuniverse.com

The first has no vignetting applied, and the second image is vignetted. As you can see, the second image has much darker corners.

Vignetting can occur in a variety of ways, with the most common being as a result of how the light travels through your camera lens to hit your sensor. Due to the round shape of the lens, less light hits the sensor at the corners, resulting in a darker image.

If you shoot in JPG, the camera you shoot with will often compensate for the vignetting of the attached lens, meaning you won’t notice it so much. Shooting in RAW may result in more obvious vignetting that you will need to adjust for in your post-processing workflow.

Other factors that can produce vignetting are the use of lens hoods or thick filter elements, which also block the light, which can be harder to deal with.

Why vignette a photo

As I have just explained, vignetting is something that many cameras will adjust for if shooting in JPEG, and something you have to fix yourself in RAW. So if it is something to be fixed, why would we want to then try and add it into a photo?

Well, the vignetting effect can be used to help draw the viewer into the photograph, away from distractions on the edge and to create a more pleasing composition. It isn’t something you will want to do with every photo, but it’s a very useful addition to your photo editing toolbox!

How to vignette a photo

I’ll be using Lightroom to demonstrate vignetting in post-processing, but a free tool such as Google Picasa will also allow you to apply a vignette effect. You’ll want to load an image in the Develop module of Lightroom. In the right hand panel, scroll down until you find the “effects” panel.

LR Vignette 1

There are a variety of sliders to choose from. The main slider is the “amount” slider, which you can move to the left to create a dark vignette:

LR Vignette 2

Or to the right to create a light vignette:

LR Vignette 3

The other options in the panel allow you to control the style of the vignette, including how much of the highlights are preserved, how well the vignette blends into the image (feathering), how round the vignette is, and how thick the vignette is (midpoint).

As you can see, there are many options for vignetting in Lightroom using the effects panel, giving you plenty of control over the look of your final image!

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