Vignette – A Bug And A Feature

A friend of mine emailed me recently. He was curious what was going on with this picture and how he might recreate the effect himself. Probably old news to photography buffs out there, but hey – it’s always fun to talk shop, right?

University of Washington Statue with Vignette

Anyway, the dark-around-the-edges effect is called a vignette. Usually this is a defect – toy cameras like the Holgas that all the hipsters know so well are famous for light leaks and vignetting. Camera and lens reviews sometimes talk about it, but only as a reflection of poor quality.  You can also see this image sometimes when you use a filter on the front of a lens, especially a thick filter or a wide-angle lens.

Vignette isn’t always a bad thing.  When done on purpose, the effect can work well as long as you don’t over do it. There is a setting in most image editing programs to do just that, but interestingly enough, the original purpose most often seemed to be to remove unwanted vignetting, not to add it in, so to create a vignette, you’re going to want to run the vignette setting in the negative direction.  Personally, I think it works best on a classically-styled image where the subject is in the middle of the frame and the area directly surrounding the subject is largely empty – portraits, especially wedding photos, come to mind.  Free frame, courtesy of vignette.

Want to add one yourself?  Click the link for a few instructions.

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  • Aperture: ƒ/8
  • Camera: Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
  • Focal length: 24mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Shutter speed: 1/125s