Vignettes - Lighten or Darken?

Vignettes – Lighten or Darken?


IMG_6777-1 copyWhen adding vignettes to your images or correcting accidental ones, you have two options: lighten or darken. Darkening the edges of your photos can add a deep, dark, vintage or even macabre quality and feel to your image and you might not even entertain the option of doing the opposite and lightening the edges.

As with any art, you must let your heart guide you, but I always find it helpful to let the original image guide my decisions. If it is high key as is the image below (taken on a bright sunny day on the beach), I chose to lighten the edges.

Use vignetting sparingly! When I first discovered digital retouching, every single image of mine had a vignette and it became sickening very quickly.

I photograph people and I like tight shots. So if I choose to do a vignette, I use Photoshop to select the foreground (usually the person), make a new layer of out it and then vignette the background layer so as not to darken the person in the process.

In the image below, you can see one is lightened and one is darkened and clearly (in my opinion, anyway) the darkened one just doesn’t make sense. It mucks up the image and detracts from its fresh, bright, high-key qualities.


IMG_9914-55 copy

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Ryan Guitard May 21, 2011 09:50 am

    Good day, my group is just establishing our first web site, looking out and understanding what is needed. This weblog stuck out right away. I’m fired up about this, and adore the design of your site. Can you let me know what “theme” it's?

  • Katie March 4, 2010 04:09 am

    In my opinion, white vignettes should almost always be avoided, with the exception of (true) high key portraits that need to be cleaned up around the edges. White comes forward - you can't help but look at it, and therefore, be distracted from the subject. Whereas black recedes, so I often don't notice dark vignettes: so long as they are nicely blended and not slapped on as an afterthought.

  • kazbaby January 1, 2010 04:54 pm

    I just dropped by, but will move on very quickly! There are so many beautifully supportive sites to follow in our eworld. It is a shame your site is sullied by an ungracious, sarcastic puritan. Hopefully Peter will have a much better year in 2010 and find the ability to "educate" by lifting and supporting.

  • Tom T December 27, 2009 06:26 am

    Leila's Right..... I do have special Vignettes filters in my Photoshop that cant be made in lightroom, but for a veriorty of normal black or white + or - Vignettes Lightroom is the place

  • Peter December 27, 2009 01:09 am


    You can not use layers in Lightroom

    In Lightroom 2 in the develop panel you will find a panel marked Vignettes. Open it up and you will find Vignettes much easier. Have a play with it.

  • Tom T December 27, 2009 12:40 am

    Oooops image didn't show???

  • Tom T December 27, 2009 12:36 am

  • Leila December 26, 2009 10:20 pm

    what did the original image look like?

    is it possible to use your layers suggestion in adobe lightroom?

  • Tom T December 20, 2009 12:51 pm

    Is this Badgering going to go on forever??? It's over, Move on... SHeeeeeesh!!!

  • Moose December 20, 2009 09:22 am

    @Peter! THanks for reminding us all about the basic Photography rules. I just want to remind all of us that rules are made to be broken. Taking photos outside of the basic composition rules is what pushes photography into progression. Although it takes great skill to take a well composed photo, it also takes skillt o be able to compose a photo that breaks these rules and it still pleasing to the eye, such as the photo of the young boy. Don't use a online forum to throw out your stuck up criticism, and when it all boils down to it your just a big giant duesch bag!

  • Elizabeth Halford December 19, 2009 06:12 pm

    @Peter: I think you may have overlooked the fact that I post on DPS a least once per week. You say I should be using my 'best work' but I haven't been in the industry for 30+ years - I don't have enough best work to have something outstandingly, technically perfect to use in every single last post on subjects as simple as vignettes. I apologise if you felt that I insulted your intelligence, although I don't recall any such insults.

  • Angie December 19, 2009 03:14 pm

    I can't believe how rude many of you can be! Photography is an art - period. I feel all the people making these crazy rude comments have nothing better to do but insult others to make themselves feel superior when in fact I'm sure there were many of times that these same people have had what others would consider bad images. Get a life.

  • Tom T December 19, 2009 01:31 pm

    OKay, think we wore this topic out,... Or beat it to death... LOL Elizabeth why don't you start one on the effects of Under and Over exposser... I'd really like to hear some remarks on this subject.. and the effects on the final Print..

    PS.... How come My Photo don't show with my name? How do you make that happen?

  • jm December 19, 2009 11:55 am

    I don't make it a practice to mix my personal sentiments with my professional work. If you would really like to see the work I do for a living, I'd be happy to look up your contact information from your site and email you the link. But it has no place here. My comments are critical of people's tendency to irresponsibly crush others for no apparent reason other than to make themselves feel better about their own art. It is hardly respectful as fellow artists, and it actually offends and embarrasses me to be associated with "photographers" if this is how we are represented.

    Tom, I appreciate and respect the fact that you retracted the initial severity of your comments. Others may still feel they are justified in what they have to say behind the ambiguity of this forum, and I'm not so sure I respect that.

  • Tom T December 19, 2009 11:30 am

    jm.... Hey I got an Idea, Burn me a copy of yours and mail me it... I'll send you the money for your cost !!!! LOL
    Dreaming I know, just a thought, money is so tight now..

    """"Tom I got the full version Tiffen dfx 2.0 it’s much better than “essentials” and, for the standalone version, doesnt cost a lot more. I got it direct from Tiffen but I think I could have done better via Amazon.""""

  • jm December 19, 2009 10:55 am

    Peter, why make your criticism so blatant and public without examples of your own apparent photographic superiority? Again (because someone has addressed your comments already) there is no need for such sharp reprimands on anyone in a cooperative learning venue. An attitude like that demonstrates more about you personally than you may realize.

  • Peter December 19, 2009 10:37 am

    If you want to publish articles anywhere about photography, then I would suggest that you not only make the subject pictures show your desired effect, but you also choose a well exposed, well cropped and sharp photo. If the reader thinks that your photos are not very good, then they are less likely to take any notice of the effect that you are trying to get across.
    You are supposed to be a professional photographer. Use your best work to get across your point, not pictures that should be consigned to the trash can. Use the article as a showcase and definitely do not try and insult your readers intelligence.
    There are articles on this site about high key lighting, check them out. A couple of the are by, guess who, Elizabeth Halford.

  • johnp December 18, 2009 12:05 pm

    Tom I got the full version Tiffen dfx 2.0 it's much better than "essentials" and, for the standalone version, doesnt cost a lot more. I got it direct from Tiffen but I think I could have done better via Amazon.

  • Tom T December 18, 2009 11:47 am

    Amazon has Tiffen DX for $60.00...

  • johnp December 18, 2009 08:29 am

    I find the Tiffen dx program is easy to use and has the best control over vignettes and a lot of other digital filter effects. Bit pricy but the cheaper standalone version isint too bad at about US$100. Worth having a look at especially if you do weddings as their are a lot of lighting and skin enhancing filters as well. I photoshop all the images then use Tiffen on selected ones.

  • basti December 18, 2009 05:52 am

    Myself I only use vignettes very subtly to lure the eye in to the picture. If it's to apparent it usually just lookes like a cheap trick and very unproffesional. Though alot of pros do vignette quite a bit.

    Please excuse my spelling, just realized I can't spell anymore. I guess too much pictures, not enough text...

  • Tom T December 18, 2009 04:14 am

    Your 100% right jm, and with that, I apologize for not using more tack about the photo examples…

    But on the other hand, if you’re going to open a discussion about Race Cars, you don’t show a VW in your examples.
    Again Sorry if I didn’t approach my criticism with care.. TOM

  • jm December 18, 2009 03:54 am

    I think we should all give Elizabeth a break here. Not to mention learn something about constructive criticism, not simply criticism for the sake of it. And shame on everyone that was so quick to point out the (overly subjective) technical aspects of these photos, and overlooking, in particular, the moment she captured with the older couple. Photography isn't JUST about some ideal exposure you read about in a book or overheard in the classroom. Photography, in particular people photography, is about telling a story with an image. Anyone can learn the technical aspects of photography with practice and instruction, but the anticipation and ability to capture real moments can't be easily taught.

    Not to mention, this article has nothing to do with exposure or composition. I have increasingly found this community more and more disrespectful of authors kind enough to give their time and share their knowledge with some very obvious amateurs. I can tell by your attitudes, without even seeing a single photo you have ever taken, your levels of experience and aptitude based solely on your respect for other artists.

  • Tom T December 16, 2009 11:36 am

    Thanks... Have a Great Holiday Jeff, ..........TOM - Home Base, San Diego, Ca.

  • Jeff December 16, 2009 11:15 am

    Tom, I'm sorry to inflict my craziness upon you ... I love the scene and the treatment. it's a beautiful shot -- it's so tough to nail the lighting in a scene like that and you did a great job with it.

  • Tom T December 16, 2009 08:30 am

    Jeff your Funny, Now it's driving me crazy also, I looked at the original photo I shot and its that way also... Now either the water was running down hill or the Bride was standing crooked... LOL.. Got me???

  • Elizabeth Halford December 16, 2009 08:03 am

    @jeff: Thank you for taking the time to consider the ideas in this post. The photos aren't perfect and the purpose wasn't to give people something to tear apart technically - they're just examples :) Photography is an art and if I wanted it to be 'overexposed' then that's just how it was meant to be and it's absolutely perfect. :)

  • Jeff December 16, 2009 03:09 am

    I'll admit that vignetting can have its place, but as others have noted, it too often simply looks like a shot done with a poor lens. For the couple on the beach, I just don't think either vignetting example works: His head is lopped off for no reason—to me a cardinal sin—and the shot is simply overexposed, with blown highlights (high key does not equal overexposed). I like the lighting on Tom's bride shot, and to me the light vignetting works for this one, but the water at an angle drives me crazy. I know we should never say never, but I'm a firm believer that if there's a body of water in a photo, it had better be level (unless you're going for a VERY dramatic effect.

  • Tom T December 15, 2009 02:44 am

    I think White vignette has it's place, especially in Wedding & Baby photos...
    [eimg link='' title='08-15-09_293b_La Jolla' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Ava-7-BWC' url='']

  • Elizabeth Halford December 15, 2009 01:52 am

    @al: "Vignetting should help draw attention to a part of the image, not become a visible object in and of itself" Well said! Also in your subtle example, the vignette isn't subtle in the least. It's massive! I like it but I wouldn't ever call that subtle.

  • Al December 14, 2009 09:08 pm

    I meant to add that in the image of the child, the vignetting works much much better.

    I believe in subtlety:
    [eimg link='' title='The look' url='']


  • Al December 14, 2009 09:02 pm

    I'm not saying it's impossible, but I've never ever seen a good photo with white vignetting. They always feel cheap and cheesey when I see them. Typically with some cute couple in the middle hugging or kissing. They feel like when someone first discovers how to use vignetting and they think it's very creative... just like when people (me included) when they first learn how to do selective b&w (very seldom done well).

    Ps, I feel that the vignetting in the above one is way too obvious. Vignetting should help draw attention to a part of the image, not become a visible object in and of itself, and when it does it looses all efficiency. Subtlety is the key!

  • Tom T December 14, 2009 01:48 pm

    Well to begin with the photo of the couple on (what I assume is the Beach) is a poor shot, lacking depth and background color, so light or dark vignette on it I don't like, I'd add Contrast and a slight Saturation to that photo.. No offence intended!

    History of the Vignette???

  • Tom T December 14, 2009 01:41 pm

    Well to begin with the photo of the couple on (what I assume is the Beach) is a poor shot, lacking depth and background color, so light or dark vignette on it I don't like, I'd add Contrast and a slight Saturation to that photo.. No offence intened!

    History of vignette??? They have been doing that ever sense they invented an enlarger in the film era, we would project the photo onto the photo paper and take a round circle on a thin shaft and go up and down in the center of the photo to great it... A bit of History from an old timer..
    TOM from

  • Jason Collin Photography December 13, 2009 04:23 pm

    I never thought of if I prefer dark or light vignettes, so this is a good topic for a post. I'd say when I use vignettes, it would be a 60/40 dark/light ratio. I like to use a sepia landscape filter in Silver Efex Pro and that sometimes adds a dark vignette.

  • Jane December 13, 2009 12:52 am

    Peter - I really feel the tone of your criticism is unnecessary. The photos are being used to demonstrate the point being made - not as an invitation for you to severely critique the overall picture quality!

    I like to use dark vignettes to frame my subjects in certain portrait shots - i feel it works particularly well on portraits taken in the park / woods and also helps to reduce any distractions in the background.

  • MeiTeng December 12, 2009 01:17 pm

    I prefer the dark vignette in the photo of the couple.

  • Peter December 12, 2009 01:08 pm

    The top photo should be titled :- Beware of distracting backgrounds, especially if you cannot get them straight. The vignette only makes the picture look worse.

    The bottom photos. Oh look I've over exposed this one. If I call it High Key, put the horizon at an angle and make it look as though I've taken it through the bottom of a beer glass, maybe no one will notice.

    By employing these types of tricks, the only person you are fooling is yourself.

  • bee December 12, 2009 07:35 am

    It's the first time I think about a lighter vignette anyway. Interesting aspect...

    In the case of the photo with the couple I somehow don't like neither vignette.

  • Angela @ Homegrown Mom December 12, 2009 04:12 am

    I just saw this cool video tutorial on how to make vignettes in photoshop at Maybe most readers of this blog already know this, but if there's any newbies out there this guy has a bunch of free videos that walk you through it step by step. I think you could even do some of it with if you don't have photoshop.

  • Jesse Kaufman December 12, 2009 03:37 am

    personally, I actually don't like either vignette on the last picture ... maybe if the lighter vignette was less-pronounced and less perfectly round (like the vignetting on the first picture) ... i think there's a time and a place for adding vignetting (be it in-lense or in post), but just like sepia it tends to get overused ... but i think it REALLY adds to the picture of the boy sitting in front of the fence!

    out of curiosity, is there actually a way to create a lightening vignette in camera? obviously the darkening vignetting originated in camera, but i was curious as to the origins of using a lighter vignette :)

  • Ron Gibson December 12, 2009 02:31 am

    Vignettes are a funny addition to a photograph. Vignetting is something that lens makers try to get away from. It was an undesirable affect caused from either a poor lens, or a lens used outside of it's 'best' region, or if the wrong hood was placed on a wide angle lens.

    The 'in lens' vignette was a result of uneven light. If you look at lens tests you can see how (in cheap lenses) the corners darken compared to the center, usually occurring in the f4.0 or faster aperture range.

    With all of the advances in lens design over the last 15 years it is rare to see a vignette in an image, unless you use the wrong hood, or a very cheap lens.

    Today, I actually like to see it every now and again. Usually I'll make 2 or 3 versions of the same image and let my clients have a look- which do you prefer? I'm using Lightroom to adjust the vignette and look at several versions of a photo at the same time.

    A vignette can certainly add to an individual photo, but when you add it to an entire series it loses it's appeal.

    So I completely agree! Vignettes can add a little something to a photo, just use them sparingly.

  • Supralaju December 12, 2009 01:46 am

    I always like the natural vignettes created by the lens the combi which will do for me FFrame camera with 17-40mm " L" lens

  • Daniel December 12, 2009 01:41 am

    In your high key example, my feeling is that the dark vignette somehow "kills" the negative space that was left on the right of the picture. It somewhat distracts the eye from the subject.

    In the picture of the boy, it helps "frame" the subject and has a totally different impact.

    It is again a question of "leading" the eye where you want it to go...

    Both shots are great!


  • Can Berkol December 12, 2009 01:30 am

    Or even better use a low quality lens :P

    I prefer darker vignettes, but it's probably because my photos also tend to be more dark than light.

    "As with any art, you must let your heart guide you"

    About that; cheers! I love it.

  • Danferno December 12, 2009 01:24 am

    Be cool - use adobe RAW to vignette.