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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Creating a Simple Vignette Effect

I find that my pictures tend to look better with a slight vignette (when the corners are darker than the center of the picture) because it draws the attention to the center:



In this post, I'll discuss three separate ways to create a vignette effect in Photoshop, with a few pros and cons of each. I'll go over the steps briefly, so please email me or leave a comment if you want more detailed directions.



  1. Method 1: Solid Color Gradient

  2. Method 2: Levels Gradient

  3. Method 3: Burning







First of all, I'll start with the following picture as the base:





Method 1: Solid Color Gradient



The simplest way to create a vignette is to apply a solid black color over the picture and fade it out as it gets closer to the center:



To create this effect:


  1. Create a new layer above your base layer and fill it with black.

  2. Create a layer mask on that layer.

  3. Choose the gradient tool, and make a gradient that consists of the following: black from 0-50%, fade black to white from 50-100% (this will make the fade start further from the center rather than at the center).

  4. Select the layer mask. Create a radial gradient (black in the center, white on the outside) from the center to a little past the corner of the photo.




This technique tends to look bad with solid color corners (especially light colors, like the sky), because the fade from light to black looks very unnatural. It's best used on images with textured corners and already dark colors.




Method 2: Levels Gradient



This next technique uses the Levels adjustment to darken the edges while retaining image information (rather than using solid black):



For this technique:


  1. On the Layers window, create a "Levels..." adjustment layer.

  2. Set 50% (the middle slider on the Levels window) to approximately .60, or adjust based on your preference).

  3. Choose the gradient tool, and make a gradient that consists of the following: black from 0-50%, fade black to white from 50-100% (this will make the fade start further from the center rather than at the center).

  4. Select the layer mask. Create a radial gradient (black in the center, white on the outside) from the center to a little past the corner of the photo. Adjust distance to preference.




This technique is very useful for lighter colors. For example, it fades a light blue sky into a slightly darker blue color, which is much more natural than fading to black.




Method 3: Burning



The third and final technique is the most difficult, but affords the greatest degree of control. It uses the burning tool to manually darken corners and edges:



For this technique:


  1. Create a duplicate layer of your base image (burning alters the original image, so a duplicate layer allows you to easily start over if you mess up or are unhappy with the results).

  2. Choose the burning tool (it looks like a little pinching hand). Set it to midtones, approximately 5%, and a size approximately 10-20% of your image height.

  3. On your duplicate layer, click and drag over the corners repeatedly; with each pass, the picture will get darker. You can hide the duplicate layer to see the difference.

  4. Continue darkening the corners and edges until you're happy with the result.




I find that burning is usually produces the best result because of the amount of control you have, but requires the most effort. It tends to look good with any picture, whether it's solid, light corners, or dark textures. Learning how to use the burn tool (and I'm still learning, myself) can be very helpful to your image processing in general.




Hopefully this post helped you understand how to create an appropriate vignette. Let me know if you need anything clarified or would like more help. Additionally, if you have any other vignette techniques, please post them or email them to me.

On a side note, similar vignetting techniques (with circular gradient layer masks) can be used for a variety of effects:


Desaturaion



Gaussian Blur

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