It’s time to talk vignettes! …and no, it is not the profile vignettes (PS - check back here for some cool charcoal ones later this month!) that are all the rage right now. No, we are talking about a slight darkening around the edges of a photograph.
Interestingly enough, the word vignette is from the root word "vine" and referred to a border of vines around text in ancient books. Photography adopted the term to mean a darkening of the edges while the center of the photo stays bright. The effect can be made in camera, but is most often added in Photoshop (and other editing programs) or by "burning" the edges on film.
Confused? Don't be - it is quite simple!
Let’s take a look at this photo of the oh-so-beautiful Kathleen of Grosgrain Fabulous. This photo is technically a good photo, but it could use a little polishing. At first glance, I like the color balance, but feel the center could use a little more light and the drama could be heightened by adding a little vignette around the outer edges. I will probably also smooth out the skin just a tad and add the slightest pop of contrast and light to the eyes.
First things first though – let’s tackle that vignette.
The polishing actions (get your FREE Action Download HERE!) are very slight adjustments meant to be used several times on top of one another to get the desired look. So look at the photo above (the original) and then the one below (ONE “darken the edges” click). It is a barely noticeable difference isn’t it? You might think that is odd considering most actions go crazy overboard and you have to dial the opacity down. I’m approaching this from the opposite angle.
Consider hemming a dress. It is much easier to take a dress IN that is a little big, than to let out a seam and attempt to make a smaller dress bigger. Why? When you let out a small seam to make the garment larger, there are often small damages to that interior fabric from sewing. Go the opposite direction (large garment to small) and you don’t have to worry about that problem.
That is the same idea with these actions. Press the button once and you get the slightest polishing effect. Press it again and the effect is greater. Press it again and again and again and THERE – perfect.
Let me show you….
See the photo below? Now I have darkened the edges 4 clicks. See the difference in the corners from the first, original photo to this one?
After 7 clicks, the vignette looks like this:
At 7, the effect is just a bit overdone. Notice how the photo starts to pull and look rounded? I don’t want that “pulled”, forced look, so for this particular photo, 4-6 clicks of ‘Darken the Edges’ is just perfect.
Now it is time to lighten!
Sometimes, instead of deepening the edges and pulling the viewer in, you want to lighten the edges and make a sense of the photo pulling away a bit, almost a heavenly type of effect. This effect goes overdone even more quickly than darkening, so beware!
The photo above is lightened 1 click ‘Lighten the Edges’ while the photo below has been clicked 4 times. Notice that Kathleen’s shoulder in the lower photo is actually turning a bit bluish white. That is the cue to STOP. When whites start to turn blue, you’ve gone too far! Step back until those white are white again, around 2 clicks for this particular photo.
Now it is time to learn the effect yourself. Open up your photo-editing program and away we go!
How to create this effect in Photoshop CS5:
Open the photo>Click Filter> Lens Correction >Custom
You will now have a grid open and various options on the right side. Go down to ‘vignette’ and slide the ‘lightness’ and ‘darkness’ sliders up and down to get the desired effect. Click OK. Your photo will pop back up in the normal photoshop screen and the filter will run automatically.