Adding a vignette can be a powerful way to enhance both the mood and the composition of an image. By adjusting the light and selectively darkening certain areas of an image, you’re able to guide the viewer’s eye more easily through the image and towards the main subject.
There are several ways to create a vignette but the only requirement is to have a software such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Camera RAW or another post-processing tool. In this article, we’ll look at two ways you can add a vignette in Adobe Lightroom.
Why Use Vignettes?
Before we look at how you can add a vignette, let’s quickly discuss why you should add it to your images.
While every image is different, the majority of them can benefit from having a slight vignette. By doing so, you’re able to both enhance the mood and strengthen the composition of the image.
Light is one of the most important factors of landscape photography and the distribution of light throughout the image will, in cooperation with a strong composition, be what guides the viewer’s eye through the image. Our eyes tend to be attracted to the brighter areas of an image and the darker areas help lead the eyes towards them.
Having the brightest area of an image close to the edges can be harmful to the overall impression of an image. The viewer’s eyes will be lead out of the image and will unconsciously struggle to focus on the more appealing parts of the image.
A vignette will eliminate this problem. By darkening the corners and edges of an image, it becomes easier to view the scene and follow the natural lines.
Vignettes can also be added selectively to only enhance the mood or to create a focus on specific parts of an image. By doing so, you avoid darkening the darker areas too much.
How to Create a Vignette in Lightroom
There are multiple methods to create a vignette in Adobe Lightroom but today, we’ll only look at the two most common (and easiest) methods. Both of them have their pros and cons and neither one is necessarily better than the other; it often comes down to what you prefer.
Method #1: Use the Vignette tool
The most obvious, and easiest, way of creating a vignette in Lightroom is by using the Post-Crop Vignetting Tool located inside the Effects tab.
You’re presented with several options within this tab but it’s the amount slider you’ll use the most. The slider goes from -100 (the vignette is 100% black) to +100 (the vignette is 100% white). In the majority of scenarios, a black vignette is what’s used, which means you’ll pull the slider towards the left. Exactly how far you pull it depends on your preferences and the particular image but I’ve found -20 to be a good option.
Midpoint is the next slider. This slider adjusts the size of the vignette’s midpoint. By sliding it towards the left, the midpoint becomes smaller, meaning the vignette is larger. Doing the opposite, i.e. sliding towards the right, results in a larger midpoint and a smaller vignette.
The standard amount for the Midpoint slider is 50. This will be a good choice for most images but, as with most post-processing adjustments, it will depend on the individual image.
Roundness determines the shape of the vignette. This is an option that I doubt you’ll have much use for but don’t let that stop you from experimenting!
The next slider, Feather, is one that you might use more often than both Midpoint and Roundness. Feather determines how hard the vignette’s transition is.
The vignette becomes hard with a rough transition by pulling the Feather slider all the way to the left. Pulling the slider towards the right results in the opposite and the transition becomes softer and less visible.
I recommend keeping the feather above 50 as anything below begins to result in a harder transition line.
Highlights is the final adjustment within the Post-Crop Vignette effect. This is another tool that you’ll rarely need to use. By pulling the slider towards the right you begin to mask out the highlights of the image, meaning that the brightest parts don’t become affected by the adjustment. This can be useful when you wish to use the bright parts in the sky etc. to enhance the composition.
As it often is, the easiest method is not the most flexible. While the Post-Crop Vignette tool does a good job in many scenarios it has certain limitations.
We don’t always wish to add a vignette around the entire image. If there are a lot of dark parts near the corners or outer edges of your image, a vignette will further darken these areas and become a distraction rather than an enhancement.
With the Post-Crop Vignette tool, there are no options to selectively add it. Aside from the masking option to lesson it on the highlights, the vignette is a global effect. This often serves as a disadvantage and is the reason why many advanced photographers prefer to add a vignette in Photoshop rather than Lightroom.
Method #2: Add a Vignette with Lightroom’s Radial Filter
The second method of creating a vignette in Lightroom is by using the Radial Filter. This option is slightly more advanced but it allows for more flexibility and selective processing.
Unlike the Post-Crop Vignette tool, this method requires a few more steps before the vignette is visible:
- Select the Radial Filter (Shift+M)
- Drag the filter across the image and create a circle/outline of the vignette (you can always readjust the diameter by pulling its edges at a later point. See this article for a more in-depth explanation of the Lightroom Tools)
- Lower the exposure until the effect is as strong as you like it (I prefer between -0.2 to -0.5)
- Adjust the feather until the transition is soft (standard 50 is normally OK)
By following the few steps above, you’ve managed to create a vignette quite similar to what we did with the Post-Crop Vignette tool. As I mentioned, this method is more flexible and allows us to make selective adjustments (meaning that the effect is only applied to certain areas of the image).
With the radial filter still selected (make sure that the vignette you just created is still selected as well – you do this by clicking the gray circular icon appearing on the image), choose the Brush Mask. This option is located on the right side above the adjustment sliders.
A new window will now have appeared beneath the adjustment sliders, where you can fine-tune the adjustments for the brush we’re about to use. Change the brush type to Erase since we will be removing parts of the vignette from the darker areas.
Keep the feather relatively high, reduce the density to about 50 and adjust the brush size; now you’re ready to begin removing the vignette. Gently brush out/erase the vignette from the darkest shadows of your image. If the effect becomes too strong, undo the adjustment (cmd/ctrl+z) and repeat it with a lower density (such as 20).
Continue brushing all the darkest shadows from your vignette until you’re happy with the result.
As you can see, this method is slightly more complicated but it’s much more flexible than the first.
For More Flexibility…
Even though it’s quick and easy to add a vignette in Lightroom it’s often even more flexible in a software such as Adobe Photoshop where you’re able to create more accurate and selective masks for the vignette and avoid common issues such as Haloing. Creating a vignette in Photoshop is more advanced but it’s not that different than doing it in Lightroom.