by Weston Maggio

Creating the Perfect Vignette

Historically, vignettes -- the darkening and sometimes lightening of the edges around a photo -- were viewed negatively. In modern day photography they are a popular design element. When used properly, they can lead your viewer’s eye and make your subject pop. Applied poorly and they can make your image scream amateur. Read on to learn how to apply a proper vignette.

Most commonly, a vignette is referred to as the darkening of the edges around a photo. Vignettes can occur naturally -- meaning right out of the camera -- or they can be applied in post. The video tip below talks primarily about creating vignettes, but its important to know where they come from in order to know where you want to go with them. 

Without getting too technical, nearly all lenses produce a "natural" vignette. This is caused by the optical design of the lens. A lens sees your scene in a circular view just like your eye. This view is called the "circle of illumination". Cameras, however, capture the center portion of this circle in the form of a rectangle.


As light sources are typically bigger than the front of a lens, light enters the lens from myriad angles. Light that enters the lens from extreme angles (the periphery) has to travel farther than light from the front and center of the lens. The light traveling from an angle naturally falls off or decreases at the point of capture resulting in underexposed edges creating a "vignette" around your frame. The effect can be subtle or extreme depending on the lens design. Wide-angle lenses commonly produce more prominent vignettes, as do all lenses at their widest aperture.

There are a couple of additional factors that can cause vignettes, such as physical obstructions in front of a lens. i.e. lens hood or filter holder. But optics are the primary culprit -- if you want to call it that.

Fast forward to today, vignettes can be seen more and more as an enhancement to an image rather than a hindrance. And thanks to continual improvements to image editing applications, it’s never been easier to add them (or remove them should you wish to do so).

Take a look at the following video to learn some popular ways to add a vignette to your photos.

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