Two Techniques to Create a Vignette in Photoshop

Vignettes can be one of the most powerful adjustments to help enhance the composition and light in an image. In the previous article, you learned how to create a vignette in Lightroom but today we’re raising the bar to see how to selectively create a vignette in Photoshop.

Aside from the option to open an image in Camera Raw and add a vignette in a similar way as we did in Lightroom, there’s no obvious method to do it in Photoshop. Instead, there are several approaches and various tools you can use, none of which is necessarily better than the others.

In this article, we’ll look at three of them and, again, keep in mind that these aren’t the only or the right ways to do it; there are numerous other options and, as I often say, it comes down to your preferences.

We’ve already talked about what a vignette is and how it can impact your image in the previous article, so let’s cut to the chase now:

Method 1: Darken with Curves

Curves is a powerful tool that can be used in a large variety of ways; one of them is to add a vignette. Using the curves technique, there are several approaches, also; you can stick to the basics or you can choose a more advanced method.

Let’s start with the basics:

  1. Select the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M)
  2. Drag a circle across the screen and move it until the edges simulate the vignette you want to create. You might need to create the circle a few times before you’ve got the shape you prefer
  3. Invert the selection (cmd/ctrl + Shift + I). We do this because we want the adjustment to be visible only outside the circle we made
  4. Create a Curves Adjustment Layer
  5. Click in the middle of the curves line and drag it slightly downward until the vignette looks good

create a vignette in photoshop

This is the easiest way to add a vignette in Adobe Photoshop. However, as we discussed in the previous article, basic vignettes such as this aren’t necessarily the best. The vignette we just created is global, which means that the effect is visible in the entire area of the vignette. Often, we need to avoid this and only add the vignette selectively. By doing so, we can avoid over-darkening the darkest parts of the image and maintain a well-balanced photo.

Using the Layer Mask

The benefit of the basic method in Photoshop versus the basic method in Lightroom is that Photoshop offers much more flexibility. The curves layer has a layer mask attached to it; it should now have a black shape in the middle with a white frame around it (this is the mask we created the vignette with).

A layer mask simply reveals or conceals parts of the specific layer/adjustment. Remember this: white reveals, black conceals. This means that the white areas of the mask reveal the adjustment while it’s hidden in the black parts, in essence, leaving the appearance “as is”.

In the image used as an example above, the upper corners have become too dark for my taste. The vignette does a good job in the middle and lower areas but the upper corners don’t look good. A layer mask is a solution for this problem:

  1. Select a black brush (B) and lower the opacity to roughly 50%
  2. Click on the curves layer mask
  3. Carefully paint the areas that you wish to remove the vignette from

how to create a vignette in photoshop

You’ve now selectively added the vignette to your image and have avoided darkening the shadows too much.

The Advanced but Precise Way

The downside of manually painting directly on the layer mask is that you’ll easily get haloing and imprecise edges. Even with a hard brush zoomed into 100%, it’s difficult to avoid painting on areas/pixels that you don’t want to be affected.

Luminosity Masks are an advanced but effective solution for this problem and the best way to create these is by using a Photoshop Panel such as Raya Pro. These masks only select specific pixels of an image. In our case, we don’t want to darken the darkest areas of the image so we’ll use a Darks mask to remove/conceal them; again, this prevents the vignette’s effect from showing in those parts so they’ll retain their original appearance. I know it sounds slightly complicated but let’s do this step by step:

  1. Create Luminosity Masks
  2. Find the Darks mask that is white in only the areas you wish to avoid darkening with the vignette but don’t select it yet. Note its name so you can easily relocate it in a few steps.
  3. Select the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M)
  4. Drag a circle across the screen and move it until the edges simulate the vignette you want to create. You might need to redo this a couple times until the circle has your desired shape.
  5. Invert the selection (cmd/ctrl + Shift + I)
  6. Remove the Darks mask from your selection (cmd/ctrl + alt/option + left click on the specific Darks mask you noted in step 2)
  7. Create a curves adjustment layer
  8. Click in the middle of the line and drag it slightly down until the vignette meets your perforation

Let me explain what just happened:

When we created a mask (our selection of the vignette), we removed the darkest areas from it by using the Darks luminosity mask. The vignette we’ve created does not affect the darkest areas of the image as much as it did with the basic method.

layer mask adobe photoshop
The layer mask after using Luminosity Masks

One way to see how this technique affected the image is by comparing the layer mask we now have with the previous one. You’ll notice that our current layer mask is black in the darker parts of the image; areas that aren’t affected.

This has become my go-to method for creating vignettes in Photoshop and after doing it a few times it’s not nearly as confusing or difficult as it might seem right now. Practice a few times and you’ll soon be breezing through it with ease…




Create a Vignette with Color Efex Pro 4

The last method we will be looking at in this article takes place in a third party plugin from Nik Software. If you don’t already own Nik Software Collection, I strongly recommend you download it for free from their website. This is a plugin I rely on in most of my workflows.

For this example, we will use Color Efex Pro 4 and the Darken/Lighten Center adjustment.

  1. With Nik Softwares installed, go to Filter -> Nik Collection -> Color Efex Pro 4
  2. Locate Darken/Lighten Center in the left side navigation panel and select it
  3. Adjust the sliders as you prefer. I tend to keep them as shown below. If the image is very dark, increase the Border Luminosity to approximately -30 to -25%
  4. Click the icon next to Place Center
  5. Click on the area in your image that you want to have as the vignette’s center.
  6. Repeat step number 4 and 5 until you’re satisfied with the result
  7. Click OK

create vignette in nik software

You might already see the difference between this vignette and the one we made previously. The Darken/Lighten Center tool does exactly as its name indicates; it darkens the outer edges and brightens the center to create an even more powerful vignette.

Similar to the previous method, creating a vignette with Color Efex Pro 4 is a global adjustment and we want to avoid impacting the darkest areas of the image. Since we haven’t already created a layer mask, the process of concealing the effect is slightly different.

  1. Select the Darken/Lighten Center layer
  2. Create a Layer Mask
  3. Create all Luminosity Masks
  4. Find the Darks mask where all the dark parts you want to remove are white
  5. Click on the Layer Mask (white box next to the adjustment layer)
  6. Select the luminosity mask you want to use (cmd/ctrl + click)
  7. Select a soft, black brush
  8. With the mask still selected, gently paint the areas on the image you wish to remove the vignette from

Summary

There are several methods to create a vignette in Photoshop; these are only three of them. While the techniques are quite different, the results are pretty similar and they serve the same purpose. I recommend exploring and trying these (as well as other) techniques until you find something that suits your workflow.

Personally, I use each of these techniques regularly. In fact, I might even use more than one on the same image.

I prefer to create vignettes in Photoshop rather than in Lightroom as it offers more options to more accurately add them selectively to only parts of the image.

Do you have a preferred way of adding vignettes? Be sure to share it with us in the comments below!

create a vignette in photoshop