Monday, October 25, 2010

Use a Vignette to Focus Attention on Your Subject


You may have noticed that I make it a regular practice to apply a vignette to my photography.  In fact, nearly every photograph receives some level of vignette in post processing.  My reason for doing this is simple; a vignette is another tool to help draw the viewers eye to the subject of the photograph.

The idea is simple; the eye is naturally drawn to light.  After exploring the light, bright, and more prominent aspects of a photograph, the eye will then travel to explore the details in the darker areas, on the margins, and in the shadows. So when we apply a vignette in post processing, even a subtle one, you can think of it as a funnel directing or nudging the eye to the middle of the composition.

In addition to the traffic control role played by a vignette, I like the look.  Like many things in photography, there is a broad field of opinion and vocally opinionated people who love to debate the use of vignettes and other techniques.  Personally, I don’t really care…I like it, and little else matters.

Lets just assume you are onboard with the idea of a vignette.  The next questions might logically include:

  1. How do I apply a vignette?
  2. Are there different types of vignettes?
  3. How do I know I applied the “right” amount.

In explanation, I will walk you through my workflow for applying a vignette.  The vignette is generally the last thing I do in the post processing workflow which coincidentally is one of the last controls in the “Develop”  module of Adobe Lightroom.  Under the “Effects” control panel, the first control is for “Post-Crop Vignetting”  You have several types of vignettes you can apply, with the default being “highlight priority.”  I usually stick with the default because it does a great job of introducing the vignette on darker regions of the image, while allowing the highlights to maintain their luminosity values.

The following photo is the starting place – all other edits were applied and it is time for the vignette.

Left Hand -3

My first step is to apply too much vignette.  In the following version, I have applied –38 highlight priority vignette.

Left Hand -3-2

In the above version, the boundary of the vignette is clear.  For me, this is a clear sign that I have pushed the vignette too far.  It’s ok, that was my intention.  The next step in the process is to gradually backoff the vignette until the well defined boundary disappears.  The next photograph is backed off to –13.

Left Hand -3-3

And finally at a level of –3.

Left Hand -3-4

Upon backing off the vignette to the point where the clearly defined boundary has disappeared (-3) in this case, I will increase the vignette slightly without returning to a clearly defined boundary.  For this photograph, I settled on the –13 setting.  In my opinion, this setting achieves a look that is natural.  In other words, you might expect the shadows and dark recesses behind the statute to create a lighting composition that accentuates the highlights and lets the light fall off around the edges.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Craig-
    Interesting. One thing missing is a definition of what exactly a vignette IS in this context. You don't seem to mean any of the definitions I am familiar with. Is it just adding shade/shadow/darkness around the edges? Cheers -- Bruce