PetaPixel

Adding a Subtle Vignette with Photoshop

vignettesubtle

Adding a vignette to a photograph can add depth to the composition and draw attention to interesting details.

However, a cautionary word: overdoing post-processing and editing techniques like vignetting can be at best distasteful. At worst, it might seem to over-compensate for what might simply be an otherwise uninteresting photograph.

Generally, the less editing needed on a photograph, the better the photograph. And naturally, the better the photograph, the better the photographer.

The same idea can apply to using vignettes: less is more.

Most editing programs like Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw have a setting that adds vignettes, but I prefer the freedom of selecting my own areas and levels to add the effect.

Here’s a quick how-to guide on manually making a subtle vignette in Adobe Photoshop to complement an image:

1. Use the marquee tool to select the part of the image that you want to emphasize.

The default shortcut key: ‘M’*

*Windows shortcuts denoted in (parenthesis) when different

2selection

Depending on the area you want to emphasize, you may want to use a shaped marquee.

In this example, I’m using a rectangular marquee because the photo has a lot of horizontal lines and I want to focus on the farmers in the general center of the photograph.

2. Select Inverse.

Default shortcut key: Command (Ctl) + Shift + I

3inverse2

Now, the area to be edited is selected.

3. Feather generously.

Default shortcut key: Option (Alt) + Command (Ctl) + D
Note: If you’re using a Mac, you may need to turn off the default keystroke shortcut for toggling the Dock; the shortcut is the same.

5featherwideThe Feather Radius depends on the size of the original paragraph, but for most photos, it’s best to feather generously, above 60 pixels.

Note: In Photoshop CS4, the option will be listed as “Refine Edge” or a feathering option will show up on the menu bar while using the select tool. CS4’s Refine Edge mode is useful because it shows how much of the image will be selected when feathered.

5featherwide2

By feathering, the selection will be rounded and blended more naturally with the rest of the photograph. The larger number radius, the more blended the feathered area becomes.

4. Create a new layer for levels and adjust the midtones.

6levels2It’s usually a good idea to create a new layer for each type of adjustment. Once they’ve been made, they can be toggled back and forth to compare the original to the adjustments made.

To create a new adjustment layer, click the half-shaded semi-circle at the bottom of the layers window.

The layer will only affect the currently selected area.

Move the mid-tones slider towards the whites to darken the mid-tones to the desired effect. Toggle the preview button to compare.

6levels

5. Hide the marquee to see the vignetted area.

Default shortcut key: Command (Ctl) + H

7hide

By hiding the marquee, the overall photograph is more visible and the effects of the adjustment are more apparent.

Continue to adjust the mid-tones to the desired darkness. In this case, I’ve only moved it from the normal 1.00 to 0.73 for a subtle, yet clearly present vignette effect.

The Final Product:

Mouseover to compare to the original.

vignettesubtle

Another example of vignette editing, with the marquee drawn closer to the subject:

molly_edit


 
  • tday01

    Nice use of vignetting, subtle and effective.

  • http://www.photoblog.com/smbunation Mike

    Excellent. I do like the subtlety to it.

  • http://twitter.com/drewchurch Drew Church

    I'm very glad my buddy recommended this blog to me. Always great stuff!

  • JessicaLum

    Thanks! I find that this method is useful during post-processing because you can tailor it to each specific photograph, so no two photos edited looks completely the same or repetitive.

  • http://www.photographylessoncenter.com tday01

    Nice use of vignetting, subtle and effective.

  • http://www.photoblog.com/smbunation Mike

    Excellent. I do like the subtlety to it.

  • http://twitter.com/drewchurch Drew Church

    I'm very glad my buddy recommended this blog to me. Always great stuff!

  • JessicaLum

    Thanks! I find that this method is useful during post-processing because you can tailor it to each specific photograph, so no two photos edited looks completely the same or repetitive.

  • http://www.redspherestudios.com RedSphere Wedding Photography

    Thank you, very informative!

  • Philip Zimmermann

    One other thing you might have wanted to mention is using the output levels slider in the Levels dialog box to add subtle darkening, in addition to the midrange control of the input histogram. This is especially useful in areas that have no info like the pure white area of the rice paddy photo that you use as an example. By moving the right-side control handle to the left on the output scale you can add a little bit of tone to the sky which makes the vignette more natural looking. In addition to adding a little tone to very light or blank areas of the image, it tends to have a more subtle darkening of other areas of the image than using the midpoint slider only in the Input Levels window.