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How To Create More Dramatic Shots With Vignetting

In photographic speak vignetting is simply a decrease in brightness of an image around its edges.

Vignetting divides opinion in the photography community. People either love it or hate it. Here at Smart we’re on the fence.

Whatever your standpoint, the primary function of a vignette should be to draw attention away from objects at the edges of the frame.

By doing this it should focus the viewers eye on the real intention of the photograph.

If a vignette is not being used for this purpose then you should be asking yourself, ‘does this image need a vignette?’

As the photographer you should be in control and be able to prevent vignetting occurring if necessary. Equally if you want to add vignetting to achieve a particular effect you should be confident in doing so in post production.

This blog post will give you the tools to do just that whilst also discussing the various types of vignetting and how to avoid them occurring in the first place.

image for vignetting feature

Vignetting: How to create more dramatic images with vignetting

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Our Stance on Vignetting

Used correctly a vignette can be a great tool for photographers to use in post production.

However if this tool is over used or used incorrectly it can make your images look old fashioned and frankly laughable in todays era of photography.

Take the shots below as examples.

In the left image you can barely notice that a vignette has been applied, it subtly softens up the edges of the photo, draws attention to the centre of the frame and gives the image a darker atmosphere.

By contrast if we take the same image and use a vignette incorrectly the photo simply looks out dated and distracts from the actual strengths of the photograph.

Examples of good and bad vignettes

Left image shows a subtle use of vignette whilst the right image shows a harsh and obvious vignette

The Different Types of Vignettes

You are extremely likely to experience vignetting in your photography and it can be caused by various factors.

Some of the causes of vignetting are within your control and you can take active measures to prevent. Equally some are just the result of the equipment at your disposal and may need to be addressed in post production.

Lens Size

Some lenses are just sometimes worse at vignetting than others.

Typically if your lens has a big aperture of say f/1.4 it is very likely to vignette when shooting wide open at f/1.4. Lenses which shoot at very big apertures tend to have more working parts in order to make that happen. The various types of elements can make it a little harder for light to get through and hit the sensor which can reduce the initial intensity of light.

The smaller you make your aperture the less likely you are too see vignetting within your images.

However, as lens vignetting can easily be fixed in post production it is not a reason to sacrifice a lens which offers a high max aperture.

Natural

This type of vignetting occurs when the angle at which light hits your camera lens is off kilter. This has a negative impact on your cameras image sensor.

The pixels that are found in the middle of the sensor receive light rays straight on at 90 degree. Unlike the centre of the sensor the pixels in the corners receive light signals at a slight angle. The result of this is that the pixel at the edges of the sensor don’t get as much light as those found at the centre.

Adjusting your settings by shooting at a smaller aperture won’t have any effect here as it is simply the way in which light reaches the pixels on your sensor. Luckily though you can fix this type of vignetting in post production so there really is nothing to worry about in that regard.

Something to consider:

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Mechanical

This is perhaps the easiest type of vignetting to understand and also the simplest to fix. It is often caused by an object actually obstructing light from reaching the cameras sensor.

This physical obstruction can be caused by anything from an oversized lens hood, a lens filter or anything that is in the lens’ field of view.

Simple tips to avoid this type of vignetting would be to buy the correct lens hood for your lens and try to minimise the chances of something being placed in front of your lens that could cause it to produce a vignette.

You can experiment by photographing a plain white surface and testing whether or not the addition of your filters/lens hood create a vignette.

Intentional

Choosing to intentionally add vignetting in post production is the thing that splits opinion within the photography community.

Some photographers love to use it as they think it add drama and isolates the important feature of their image.

On the other hand you have photographers who hate vignettes and prefer a cleaner aesthetic to their images.

The effectiveness of a vignette really depends on the type of image and the overall goal. An image that is already dark by nature may really benefit from its edges being darkened. Whereas the same vignette on a crisp light photograph might make it look unintentional and messy.

Is Vignetting Good or Bad?

As previously discussed we think that a subtle vignette can add real drama to certain photos. The type of photographs that we think it works best with are ones that are already quite dark and moody to begin with.

It also seems that a portrait shot will get on much better with a vignette than say a sunny landscape photo or an image that is predominantly white.

Types of photos that suit vignetting

As you can see in these examples below the dark portrait really benefits from darkened corner and draws the viewers attention to the subject matter.

It creates a whole new dynamic for the already stunning photo.

Example of no vignette vs image with a vignette

The left image doesn’t have a vignette whilst the right image has a soft subtle vignette

On the other hand we applied that same vignetting technique to the clean white photo below.

The vignetting in this case looks too obvious and almost as though the photograph hasn’t been finished.

white image with vignette and white image without vignetting

The top image doesn’t have a vignette whilst the bottom image does. Which looks better?

How to Add a Vignette in Lightroom/Vignette Controls Explained

Controlling vignette in Lightroom

Left: ‘Effects’ control panel. Right: ‘Lens Corrections’ control panel.

It is a very easy procedure to play around with adding vignettes to your images in Lightroom.

Simply navigate to the ‘Effects’ panel in your ‘Develop’ module. You will be presented with the following controls under the heading ‘Post-Crop Vignetting’

Here is a brief outline of what each of the controls does.

Style

The style option in the effects panel of Lightroom gives you the ability to change the way in which the vignette reacts with a photo.

Below we have demonstrated how the ‘Style’ option effects the same image so that you can see it in action. All other setting have stayed the same.

There wasn’t much of a difference between ‘Highlight Priority’ and ‘Colour Priority’ in the image we sampled it on.

Original image with no vignette added

Highlight Priority

This function allows for the recovery of specular highlights. One down side is that it can produce colour shifts which are not always desirable.

portrait with highlight priority selected

Highlight Priority style selected

Colour Priority

Prevents colour shifts from happening but its recovery of highlights is not as effective.

On this particular photograph there was no apparent change between ‘Highlight Priority’ and ‘Colour Prority’

Paint Overlay

This method can sometimes produce a flat looking image as it mixes black or white pixels with those in the photograph. As you can see in the photo below this technique has desaturated some of the colour from the photograph. This vignette has given the image a darker feel.

Paint Overlay style selected

Amount

As the title suggest this simply controls the amount to which the edges of an image are either darkened or lightened.

To darken the edges pull the slider to the left. If you are trying to make the dark edges of an images less noticeable or attempting a white vignette push the slider to the right.

Roundness

This determines how round your vignette will appear. Try it now for yourself.

If you drag the slider to the left a more rectangular and obvious frame to your image will be achieved.

If your aim is a more subtle look then pull the slider to the right.

Feather

As above with the roundness slider the amount of feathering depends on the look you are going for.

If you want hard edges to your vignette then drag the slider to the left. However, if you want to gradually draw the eye to the centre of the image pull the slider to the right.

Playing around with the feathering tool can really make or break your image.

Highlights

This one will only be active if you are using either the Highlight Priority or Colour Priority Styles.

This function will help retain some of the contrast that is applied by the darkening effect of the vignette.

How to Remove Vignetting from Your Photographs

A vignette that has been caused as a result of shooting a certain lens at a particular aperture is very simple to correct in Lightroom.

If the lens you are using is supported by Lightroom it is a case of simply utilising the ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ option found within the ‘Lens Corrections’ panel of the ‘Develop’ module.

This feature will instantly recognise the lens used. Additionally it will remove the vignette that has been created by a wide aperture or a known quirk of that particular lens.

You can also adjust the intensity of the vignette within this panel if you think it hasn’t quite solved the problem first time.

This setting can then be saved and applied to all photographs if required.

To Conclude

As you progress on your photography journey you will definitely experience vignetting.

It is always going to be down to a photographers personal preference whether or not they use this technique.

The aim with this blog post was to show you how you can use vignetting effectively. At the same time we hope you understand that adding a vignette doesn’t always improve a photograph.

Vignetting is a really simple editing technique and a great way to experiment with your images. As it is non destructive in Lightroom as well it does no harm to have a play around with its effectiveness.

Here at Smart we are not saying add heavy vignettes to every single photo you take. We would especially advise against using harsh spherical vignetting without feathering.

We are merely suggesting you try it on a few photos to see how it turns out. Some photographers will also use coloured or white vignettes and we wouldn’t advocate this. We have never seen a photo that has benefitted from a white vignette.

Contrary to our beliefs this trend remains popular with wedding photographers. However, we have equally never seen a good wedding photo with a white vignette. Just our opinion.

The key to vignetting in our opinion is subtlety.

So what are you waiting for? Open up Lightroom now and experiment with adding/removing vignettes from you images.


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