A Simple Trick to Make Beautiful Vignettes in Photoshop

A vignette can improve probably 80% of your images. And while you probably already know a few good tricks to make a simple vignette, this tutorial is going to focus on a couple of very simple tricks you can use to make them even more beautiful.

Darkening the edges of a photograph helps pull the viewers gaze away from the edges and toward the main subject, which is likely placed somewhere around the rule of the thirds or some central part of the image – almost never the edges. A simple way to do this in Photoshop is to create a rough selection of the central part of the image, invert and feather it, and then add an adjustment layer to darken (curves, levels, or brightness/contrast are all good choices). However, this darkens all the highlights around the edges. If you have a large, bright edge such as a building or rough water in a river, this may be the best choice. But if you have a lot of small detail, darkening the highlights can make the image look a bit flat. And something similar is true of the interior of the image.

If you’ve only been darkening the edges in your vignettes, you may be missing a lot of opportunities to push the technique further by lightening the interior. A simple way to do this is to create another rough selection of the center (which may be quite different from the previous selection) and then lighten through another adjustment layer. As this also lifts shadow values, it can leave the subject looking a bit flat as well. Lifting just the midtones and highlights is a more visually compelling approach.

So with the goal of darkening midtone/shadow values on the edges and lightening the midtone/highlight values in the center, you can use the following simple tricks to make more beautiful vignettes:

  • Create a second “vignette” which lightens the center (in addition to a traditional vignette to darken the edges). This further enhances the visual pull toward your subject.
  • Use BlendIf to avoid darkening highlights or brightening shadows. This helps hold more contrast and detail.

If you have Lumenzia, use the following simple workflow:

  • Outer Vignette:
    1. Use the Lasso tool (<L>) to draw a rough selection.
    2. Click “Vignette” to convert the selection into a vignette.
    3. Switch to BlendIf:under mode (or just hold <shift>) and click on D-D3 to target darker tones.
    4. Customize the vignette layer by adjusting its opacity and the mask feather property (double-click the mask, or go Window/Properties and click on the mask).
  • Inner Vignette:
    1. Use the Lasso tool (<L>) to draw a rough selection for the interior.
    2. <alt/option> click “Vignette” to convert the selection into an inner vignette.
    3. Create an L-L3 BlendIf to target lighter tones.
    4. Customize the vignette layer


If you do not have Lumenzia, you can use the following workflow in Photoshop to create a similar effect:

  • Outer Vignette:
    1. Use the Lasso tool (<L>) to draw a rough selection.
    2. Create a new Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer.
    3. Double-click the layer and slide Brightness to -100 to darken.
    4. Adjust the mask feathering property (double-click the mask, or go Window/Properties and click on the mask). A large radius around 100-500 pixels is best.
    5. Double-click the far-right side of the layer in the layers panel to open up Layer Styles, where you can adjust BlendIf.
    6. Drag the white slider for the underlying layer left to exclude brighter tones. At this point, you’re just looking for a rough idea of which highlights to exclude, the results will look very sharp until you split the sliders.
    7. <alt/option>-click the same slider to split it and drag the two parts further apart until you have a natural-looking transition.
    8. The BlendIf reduces the degree of darkening, so you may to adjust the Brightness slider further to the left to finish.
  • Inner Vignette:
    1. Use the Lasso tool (<L>) to draw a rough selection for the interior.
    2. Create a new Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer.
    3. Double-click the layer and slide Brightness to +100 to lighten.
    4. Adjust the mask feathering property (double-click the mask, or go Window/Properties and click on the mask). A large radius around 100-500 pixels is best.
    5. Double-click the far right-side of the layer in the layers panel to open up Layer Styles, where you can adjust BlendIf.
    6. Drag the black slider for the underlying layer right to exclude darker tones. At this point, you’re just looking for a rough idea of which shadows to exclude, the results will look very sharp until you split the sliders.
    7. <alt/option>-click the same slider to split it and drag the two parts further apart until you have a natural-looking transition.
    8. The BlendIf reduces the degree of darkening, so you may to adjust the Brightness slider further to the right to finish.


How to use the New Content Aware Fill

Content-Aware Fill has long been one of those features in Photoshop that feels like magic. It’s perfect for cloning or fixing larger areas of an image without having to re-sample over and over with the clone stamp or healing brush, or to define the source area using the “patch” tool. But this tool sometimes grabs the wrong source material and creates epic failures. So simplicity is great until is doesn’t work. Adobe gets this and they gave us a lot more control in Photoshop CC 2019 with a new version of Content Aware Fill.

The new version is a huge improvement. The biggest change is that you can easily specify which parts of the image can or cannot be used as source material. This eliminates the biggest problem, where random objects show up in the fill. Another critical change is that you get a live preview as you make changes to both the source material and areas targeted for fill. There has always been a bit of unpredictability in the tool, and these live previews allow you to more quickly explore different settings to find exactly what you need. And finally, there are several more controls to allow you to specify whether or how source material is manipulated to deal with specific issues, such as a repetitive pattern disappearing into the distance.

Both the old and new version of the tool are available in Photoshop CC 2019. To access the old tool, you can click <shift>-<delete>, <shift>-<F5>, or go to Edit/Fill and set the contents dropdown to “content aware”. The new tool is in a different place and has no keyboard shortcut by default (though you can customize your keyboard shortcuts to use it if you prefer). Just go to Edit / Content-Aware Fill (not simply “Fill”). If either of these items are grayed out in the menu, make sure that you have selected a normal pixel layer (Smart Objects are not supported) and that you already have an active selection (which you can change once you enter the new tool, but you will need an active selection to use it).

The workflow for Content Aware Fill is a bit iterative, but generally works looks this:

  1. Create a hard-edged selection with the lasso tool (<L>) and go to Edit/Content-Aware Fill.
  2. Click the circular reset arrow for “fill settings”, as the default settings are usually the best place to start.
  3. Refine the green sampling areas with the brush (accessed by clicking <B> or the icon in the toolbar at left). If you do not see any green, make sure “show sampling areas” is check and click the circular reset arrow next to that checkbox. Use the minus option in the tool options at top left (or hold the key to use the opposite mode) to see a minus cursor and paint out any areas of green that should not be used for Content-Aware Fill. You can add additional areas with the brush in plus mode if remove too much or need to include something outside the original green area. Note that the preview will update after any change to the green areas.
  4. You may refine the lasso selection as needed with the lasso tool in the toolbar or by clicking <L>. This is of course helpful if your original selection wasn’t perfect, but also serves another purpose. Making even very tiny changes to the selection can dramatically change the fill preview. So try making very small changes to experiment with different fills, even just a pixel far removed from any problem areas. Think of it as a way to provoke random changes in the results. This is a great way to improve the quality of the fill after you have refined the green areas.
  5. If you need to zoom or move around, you can use the icons in the left toolbar or the standard <Z> to zoom and <space> temporary hand tool. Note that checking the “scrubby zoom” option in the zoom tool settings allows you to click and drag to zoom smoothly in or out of the image window on the left, but that the preview of the fill in the right window unfortunately ignores this setting. The easiest way to zoom in and out of the preview window is to use the zoom slider at the bottom of the preview.
  6. Once you’ve done everything above, you may wish to experiment with different options in the “fill settings”. They generally behave in a way consistent with their naming, but the results can fairly unpredictable, so experimentation is the best approach.
    • Color Adaptation specifies how much the source material can be changed in tone or color to fit its new surroundings.
    • Rotation Adaptation specifies how much the source material can be twisted in the fill. Unlike color adaptation, it doesn’t do a great job at matching its surroundings, which makes the results highly unpredictable (ie, its much more about rotation than adaptation). But it can be very useful if you need to change orientation, such as in rocky textures that may look like too much of a repeating pattern without some variation.
    • Scale allows the source material to be resized, which can be helpful for patterns that change size, such as a brick wall shot on an angle.
    • Mirror allows the source material to be flipped, which is great for sampling from something which is symmetrical and opposite to the area you need to fill. This is good for things like architecture and reflections.
  7. Before clicking “ok” choose which output you’d like: new layer (great for working non-destructively with minimal increase in file size), current layer (best avoided unless you feel very confident in the results), or duplicate layer (helpful if you want to keep more source material for cloning later, but this generally causes a wasteful increase in file size and you can always clone from the original layer).

You may find that you get a great, but not perfect result. That’s fine. Once you’ve finished with Content-Aware Fill, you can then use the spot healing or clone tools to further improve the results. The goal is to have Content-Aware Fill do about 90% of the work for you, which should ultimately give you faster and better results.

How to use Color Channels in BlendIf for Stunning Sunsets

Beautiful sunset color is critical to great photographs. It’s what sets your image apart from so many other others. I believe it’s so important that I dedicated an entire chapter of my blending course to getting great color.

There are many tricks for getting great color, but one of my favorites is to couple an adjustment layer with BlendIf. It’s quick, leaves your options open to easily make changes later, and it keeps your files smaller than using layer masks. Combined with the right adjustment layers, BlendIf can create gorgeous sunsets.

In this tutorial, you’ll see several examples of how you can use BlendIf with solid color layers, HSL, contrast-enhancing curves, and brightness layers to extract more color and detail from this sunset cityscape. Part 1 shows the workflow to process the image in Photoshop. Part 2 then explores why using the color-channels in BlendIf is so powerful for enhancing sunrises and sunset.

Tips for getting the most out of BlendIf:

  • Adjust the slider for the “underlying” layer. Do not use “this” layer when applying BlendIf to adjustment layers.
  • Once you find the approximate shadow or highlight slider positions, hold <alt/option> to split the sliders and create a more natural result.
  • To target sunset colors, try bringing up the red shadow slider (instead of using the gray sliders).
  • If you want to further target sunset colors, try bringing down the blue highlights slider. The added benefit here is smaller and this is something you can safely skip, but it’s a nice trick when you want to really tweak the results.

Be sure to also see Color Grading with BlendIf.

Photoshop Selections 101: What they are and how to use them

The walls in my house are a subtle shade of green. “Hampshire Gray,” I think it’s called. Whatever it is, it’s starting to feel a little dark and dated. When we have it redone, our painters will have to protect the windows with removable blue tape before they start painting. They’re professionals, but they still need this tape to avoid accidentally painting on the glass. I suppose they could do it without the tape, but it’d probably take several extra weeks and they’d probably still make a few mistakes. So no matter how good of an artist you are, it is important to have tools to work more precisely and more quickly.

In Photoshop, the equivalent of using blue masking tape is “selections”. These act like a “stencil” to control what you can affect with the various tools in Photoshop. When you have an active selection, you can only use Photoshop’s tools (such as the paint brush) inside that selection. This can help you change a red car to green, without changing the color of the bumper. Or whiten someone’s teeth, without affecting their lips.

Of course, there are always many ways to do things in Photoshop and you can use layers and masks instead of selections to make those same changes. In fact, masks are often the best way to make those changes because you can typically revise or undo adjustments made with layers and masks. But it isn’t an either/or situation,  both selections and masks are critical to producing great images with Photoshop and it is important to understand each of their roles.

Masks control which pixels you can see, while selections control which pixels you can change. Masks conceal or reveal various parts of your layers. Selections affect which pixels you can affect with a tool, warp, or filter. And because masks are just grayscale images, you can also use selections to help create or refine your masks. So even if you use adjustment layers instead of brushes or other tools, it’s important to be skilled with selections.

In the following video, you’ll see these concepts in action as you get a brief overview of every selection tool available in Photoshop.


Photoshop offers many tools for making selections. They can be a little difficult to discover, as they aren’t all in one place. They are located in the tool bar, various menus, in the layers and channels panels, and available via shortcut keys. To help you find them, I’ve listed where to find each next to its description.

Photoshop offers the following basic tools for creating selections, including:

  • Marquee selections (Found in the toolbar; shortcut: <M> or <shift><M>).  This allows you to create selections which are rectangular and circular in shape. That may sound simple, but can be quite useful for creating vignettes, general selections, or revising selections by using the add/subtract/intersect commands mentioned below. This is a “dumb” tool which completely ignores the content of your image.
  • Lasso selections (Found in the toolbar;shortcut: <L> or <shift><L>). The general idea is that you draw a freehand selection. The polygonal version allows you to draw with a series of connected lines, and the magnetic version tries to help snap the selection to edges. The use of this tool is often similar to the marquee selections, but with much more control over the shape of the selection. This is a “dumb” tool which also ignores the content of your image.
  • Magic wand (Found in the toolbar;shortcut: <W> or <shift><W>). This tool allows you to select pixels which are similar to whatever you click on. This is very useful to quickly select things like a blue sky. However, this tool creates all or nothing selections, which means that the transitions are very harsh.
  • Quick Select (Found in the toolbar;shortcut: <W> or <shift><W>). This tool is somewhat similar to the Magic Wand, but you click and drag to help define the selection. The Magic Wand is great for subjects which may be broken up (such as a blue sky obscured by tree leaves), whereas the Quick Select is often simpler for targeting continuous subjects (such as a continuous sky).


Taking things a step further, selections aren’t quite as simple as blue masking tape. The selection tools mentioned above either create selections which are 0% or 100% for a given pixel. But the more advanced options below can be partially selected from 1-99% as well. These allow for much more natural selections and higher quality work.

Photoshop’s more advanced selection tools include:

  • Refine Edge (Found under the Select menu as “Select and Mask,” or as “Refine Edge” in older versions of Photoshop). This tool helps to soften the improve the edges of your selection by analyzing the image content and is a great way to address edge issues with the Magic Wand and Quick Select tools.
  • Color Range (Found under Selection/Color Range). This tool helps target pixels of similar tone or color. But unlike the Magic Wand or Quick Select tools, it is able to create partial selections. This allows for more natural selections and higher quality work.
  • From Channels/Masks (available in the channels panel under Window/Channels: look for the “load channel as selection” icon at the bottom of the panel or <ctrl/cmd>-click on any thumbnail in the channels panel. Or you may <ctrl/cmd>-click on any layer mask in the layers panel). This creates “luminosity selections”, or selections based on the brightness of the image.  This is an advanced technique, which I cover in great detail on my luminosity masking page, newsletter tutorials, and in my exposure blending course.
  • From Transparency (available by <ctrl/cmd>-clicking on any image thumbnail in the layers panel). If you have a normal layer which covers the entire image, this is the same as selecting everything. But if the layer has some transparency, can be used to target just the pixels in the layer. This is most useful when targeting areas dodged and burned on a transparent layer. For the most part, it is just important to be aware of this because if you -click on the image thumbnail, you will probably see a selection around the image when you meant to load the layer mask or channel as a luminosity selection instead. In other words, you’ll probably run into this by accident at some point if you’re using luminosity selections. Loading from transparency only considers the transparency of the pixels, not their luminosity.


Photoshop includes various other tools to work with selections, which are often used to combine simple selections into more complex and useful ones.

Other helpful tools for working with selections:

  • Deselect (shortcut: <cmd>-D). This discards your selection, so that you can once again change any pixel.
  • Select All (shortcut: <ctrl/cmd>-A). This is commonly used to select the entire image so that you can copy and paste it.
  • Expand/Contract/Feather (Found under Select/Modify). Feathering is an especially useful option to help transition more smoothly from areas which are selected to those which are not. Expanding and contracting can be helpful to refine a Quick Select at the edges.
  • Add (shortcut: <shift>). Combining selections allows for more complex selections. Adding via marquee or lasso is a great way to fill in any holes in the middle of your selection.
  • Subtract (shortcut: <alt/option>). Subtracting via marquee or lasso is a great way to remove parts of your selection you don’t want.
  • Intersect (shortcut: <shift><alt/option>). Intersecting keeps areas which are common to two selections. Intersecting with a lasso is a great way to keep just a portion of an existing selection.
  • Hide Marching Ants or “Extras” (shortcut: <ctrl/cmd>-H). This allows you to hide the “marching ants” that are meant to show a selection, as the ants can be very distracting.


This is just an overview of the tools that ship with Photoshop. There are many 3rd party options to help create and use selections, such as my luminosity masking panel Lumenzia.


Luminosity masking is easier than ever with Lumenzia v7

Version 7 of the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop is now available as a free upgrade for all customers. This is the the most ambition update since v1, with over 160 new features, updates, and bug fixes in total. The major themes in v7 are speed and interactivity. It’s never been easier to create the perfect luminosity mask or selection to make beautiful photos. And the updates have been designed to avoid changing any existing workflows, so you can jump right in.

Lumenzia is also featured extensively in my Exposure Blending Master Course (and Lumenzia v7 can be purchased for 50% off when bundled with the course). None of the techniques taught in the course with v6 change now, but I am updating the course to highlight a few ways you might take advantage of new v7 capabilities.

Buy Lumenzia v7 now.

New features in Lumenzia v7 include:

  • Dynamic previews  immediately update the preview as you click “Not” or any of the color swatches at the top of the panel.**
  • The new Precision and Value Sliders to interactively adjust mask strength to be more specific or general. This seemingly simple controls allows you to customize masks extensively in a visual and intuitive manner. You can even adjust mask feathering without opening the Properties panel in Photoshop. **
  • The precision slider also allows you to create intermediate masks (such as L1.5) and more specific masks (such as D7). **
  • Fast previews. This dramatically speeds up the creation of the temporary orange and red layers under many common conditions (up to 4-8X faster on typical files, or up to 20X on extremely large files).
  • The active luminosity selection lights up green so you can easily remember if you are working with L2 vs L3 or something else. **
  • The non-destructive sponge has been completely resigned for speed, simplicity, and better results. It’s the easiest way to enhance or subdue color in your image. (As before, click “Dodge” to access the Sponge tool.) **
  • Highlight blown or nearly blown highlights and shadows by <alt/option>-clicking “Map”.
  • Load any gray or transparent dodge/burn layer as a selection, so that you can further refine your results (such as by applying a contrast curve to only the areas which were dodged and burned).
  • And so much more (>160 enhancements total). See the release notes for a full list of all changes.

** Note for CS6 users: While v7 includes >100 enhancements for CS6, you will see that several new interface items which require CC (such as the sliders). This are unfortunately due to limitations of the nearly 7-year old CS6 platform. Differences are primarily in appearance or workflow. Functional capabilities generally remain nearly the same (the new color model is only available for CC however).

Buy Lumenzia v7 now.

Buy Lumenzia v7 now.

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