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.

Photoshop will build some automatic vignette for you, as will other programs, so check your help file if you’re not using Photoshop or you have an earlier version.  I use CS4, so that’s where these instructions apply.  I also start most of my pictures from RAW images, which means the first program I use is called Adobe Camera Raw, and it has a vignette feature built right in.  It also has something calledPost Crop Vignetting, which means that the effect you apply will stay in place even if you crop the image.  To access the settings, click the Lens Corrections button (third from the right) and then play with the sliders.

Vignette settings in Adobe Camera Raw

If you are starting from a jpg, open it in Photoshop and then choose Filter -> Distort -> Lens Correction.  This filter is all about cleaning up issues caused by the type and quality of lens you used, but the vignette settings work as well for adding it as removing.

Vignette settings in Adobe Photoshop CS4

Move the Amount and Midpoint sliders around until you’re happy with what you’ve got.  Very nice!

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

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