Most photographers have a love-hate relationship with vignetting.
It’s either they absolutely despise it because it affects the quality and look of their images, or they embrace it artistically as a way of drawing the eyes to the main subject within the photo.
But first, a quick introduction.
Vignetting occurs when there is a reduction in light in your images as you move away from the centre towards the edges of the photograph. It creates a sort of dark frame around the edges and focus point of your image and often gives the overall image a rather dated or classic look.
Tech speak – There are many ways in which vignetting can occur. A natural vignette can be caused by the angle at which natural light hits the image sensor. There could be obstructions that cause this darkening of the edges by accessories such as lens hoods or polarizing filters. And wider apertures could also introduce vignetting coupled with the amount of light hitting (or not hitting) the image sensor. Unwanted vignetting can be fixed using lens correction and recalibration tools in your post-production software.
Drag the slider below for a before and after look at the image.
Making the case for vignetting
For the few photographers who embrace vignetting – which softens and darkens the edges, it is more commonly used in environmental portrait photography or by even fewer landscape photographers to isolate an element within a sweeping landscape.
When applied elegantly, vignetting can immediately transform your image to an arresting one that immediately draws and centres the eyes of the viewer on your main subject or where you want them to focus. It can elevate your subject in a way that makes them almost jump off the photograph because of the dark contrast that vignetting creates.
That is why as a travel photographer who creates a lot of environmental portraits during my assignments, I appreciate and often use vignetting in my images to draw focus and create more intensity.
While biking through the Eastern Desert in Egypt, I met this man at sunrise in Qulaan as we were about to start our ride for the day before the heat made it more challenging. His portrait is already well balanced in terms of the positioning and composition.
But at first glance, your eyes are naturally drawn to the whiteness of his turban first before they move down to his striking honey-coloured eyes.
If I want to steer your eyes immediately to his eyes first, then adding some vignetting to soak up some of the brightness around him would instantly draw your eyes to his.
Working with vignettes in Adobe Lightroom is very straightforward. You don’t need Photoshop at this stage of your post-production process and you as the photographer can control the intensity of the vignetting around your image by dragging sliders.
Step 1 – In Lightroom, go to the “Develop” tab and expand the “Effects” settings.
Step 2 – You will see several sliders that govern the intensity and style of your vignette.
The “Amount” slider controls how dark you want the vignette around the edges from a scale of -100 (darkest) to +100 (lightest). Play around by dragging the slider towards the left.
The “Midpoint” slider controls where the middle of the vignette should be (from 0-100). Zero will be the smallest midpoint starting at the centre while 100 will be the largest midpoint.
The “Roundness” slider affects the shape of the vignette around your subject.
The “Feather” slider controls the elegant blending from light to dark in your vignette.
The “Highlights” slider controls how much the vignette affects the natural highlights in your image.
Step 3 – So by dragging the sliders, here are my ending settings for the “after” image below.
With a heavy vignette added to the image, you can see that it subtly draws your eye immediately to his own honey-coloured ones. Compare and contrast by looking at the before and after images at the beginning of this article and see where your eyes go first in the image.
The beauty of vignetting is that you can control its intensity and it ultimately boils down to the personal taste of the photographer. Seeing how it can be applied in various cases can open your mind to different possibilities.