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.

 


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