Adding a soft vignette to your images is often a great way to strengthen an already good composition and emphasize a particular subject by making it appear brighter than its surroundings. There are many ways to create one and you don’t need an advanced software such as Adobe Photoshop to do so; it can easily be done in Lightroom. However, I rarely recommend using Lightroom’s built-in Vignette tool – instead, you should create a custom vignette.
It might sound a little scary to create it yourself when it’s so easy to do it with Lightroom’s built-in slider but the results will be better and you’ll be much more flexible to adjust it according to your preferences.
Why Lightroom’s Post-Crop Vignetting Tool Isn’t Good Enough
If you’ve heard about vignettes before and you use them for your images, it’s quite likely that you’re also somewhat familiar with Lightroom’s Post-Crop Vignetting Tool. Most of us, myself included, started creating vignettes with this tool and felt pretty content with it. There is one main drawback with it though: you’re extremely limited.
What do I mean with this? The Post-Crop Vignetting Tool only allows you to make adjustments outside the vignette and the center remains fixed (i.e. you can’t move the center of the vignette).
As photographers, it’s rare that we place the main subject of our image in the middle of the frame. In fact, it’s often frowned upon when it is as it contradicts most compositional rules such as The Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio.
There is an easy solution to this problem though: create a custom vignette.
Create a Custom Vignette in Lightroom
Making your first custom vignette in Lightroom isn’t as hard as you might fear. Actually, it’s pretty straightforward and after doing it a few times, I’m confident that you’ll get the hang of it.
We will use the Radial Tool (Shift+M) to create the custom vignette. When you’ve selected the Radial Tool, create a new filter by clicking and dragging it on your image. You can keep modifying the shape and size of the filter by pulling its edges until it covers the subject you wish to highlight and some of the space around it.
Once you’ve created the shape you prefer (remember, you can come back and move/adjust the filter at any time), lower the exposure until you have a gentle vignette around your image. Avoid making the vignette too visible as it might take too much attention then.
Personally, I prefer to work with the exposure slider but you can also use any of the other sliders presented.
When you’ve got the effect of the outer vignette you desire, you can adjust the feather to make the transition towards the center softer or harder.
Don’t Forget About the Center!
The second great benefit of creating a custom vignette with this technique is that you’re also able to make adjustments to the center of the vignette. Quite often, I prefer increasing the exposure slightly on the insides to further enhance the focus on this area.
Right-click on the small icon in the center of your active filter (which is the outer part of the vignette) and select duplicate layer. This creates an exact copy of the filter we’ve already created – both the shape and adjustments. Duplicating the layer has made the vignette even darker but we’ll come back and fix this in a moment.
Directly below the Feather slider, there’s a box named Invert Mask. By selecting this option, we tell Lightroom to invert the filter and make the adjustment inside the selection. Pull the exposure slider a little towards the right until you have an exposure of +0.2 to 0.5 or wherever you find the effect to be best.
That’s it! You’ve now created your first custom vignette in Lightroom – it wasn’t that hard, was it?
Make sure to have a look at the following articles and courses if you’re ready to start developing your post-processing and Lightroom skills: