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Vignette before and after

My favorite trick for adding drama to an ordinary photo is to give it a vignette effect. If you’ve seen old black and white photos, you’ll sometimes notice the corners are darker than the rest of the image. It’s usually undesirable. But done purposefully and tastefully, vignetting can give an image added interest, depth, and focus.

There’s a million techniques to make vignettes in Photoshop, but I’m most fond of the quick and dirty way. Here’s how to do it in three easy steps:

1. Use a large soft paintbrush

The key is to use the paintbush tool set with a large and soft brush.

  • Set the brush size to at least half the width of the image. For example, if your picture is 2,000 pixels wide, your brush should be at least 1,000 pixels.

  • Set the hardness to between 0% and 20%, depending on how soft you want your vignette.

Your brush settings should look something like this:

Vignette brush settings

2. Paint around the edges

On a new layer, use the paintbrush to paint black edges around the image. As you paint, make sure at least half of the brush is off the canvas. Otherwise, the edges of the vignette will be way too deep:

Vignette edge

To give you a better idea of how to paint the edges, here’s what the painted layer looks like without the image layer beneath it:

Vignette edge with no image

3. Adjust the edges’ opacity

The final step is the lower the opacity of layer with the painted edges to about 60% or to your liking. Here’s the final result:

Vignette final

Some variations

Sepia

Use Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer to convert the image to black and white and then use Image > Adjustments > Photo Filter to apply a sepia tone:

Vignette with sepia effect

Fade to white

Instead of black, paint on the edges using white as the foreground color. Then, lighten the main image a bit using Image > Adjustments > Levels:

Vignette with white edge

Wasn’t that easy?

Thanks to Scott of Punchcut for the photo of his daughter, Audrey.

6 Comments

  • Tim King

    gravatarJan 8, 2007
    12:56 pm

    That’s a great technique, I’ve been doing vignettes in a similar way for years now.

    As you said there are a million ways to do them, I’ve seen plugins that cost way too much and tutorials that take longer to read than to actually do them with this method!

  • mattymatt

    gravatarJan 8, 2007
    3:48 pm

    A great topic. Another handy way to do this is to hit shift-M to switch the selection type to oval, then draw an oval over most of the image, then hit select/feather to blur the edges. Then hit select/inverse so that the corners are selected, and fill them in with a large black brush. Or you can copy those corners and then paste them as a new layer, and switch the blending to “multiply,” so the contrast looks more stern. And if you’re really fancy, you can convert to CMYK and then copy-paste just the black layer, which will give you extra-crispy shadows. Here’s how that sort of tomfoolery winds up looking: http://flickr.com/photos/mattymatt/tags/coronaheights/

  • Chad

    gravatarJan 9, 2007
    8:13 am

    Great tutorial, that’s a neat way of doing it. I’ve been doing it basically as a hybrid of yours and mattymatt’s.

    I use the oval selection tool, feather the selection, and then use the quickmask to ‘rough’ up the selection (based on shadows and highlights in the picture) a bit so it doesn’t look artificial.

  • Audun

    gravatarJun 12, 2008
    1:46 am

    Thanks. Just the trick I was looking for!

  • ashley

    gravatarApr 14, 2009
    2:40 pm

    picnik.com has vignettes you can add to any photo. and you can control the size, color, strength, etc. i’ve used them and love the results.

  • Jugemon

    gravatarFeb 1, 2010
    6:15 am

    I cannot use Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer to convert the image to black and white :/ Can’t find the right settings. Good there is other ways, too =)