A vignette is simply the darkening or lightening of an image towards its edges.
There are two basic types of vignettes, the deliberate and the accidental or to be more accurate incidental. I want to talk about the deliberate type here. This Wikipedia entry has a good round up of the others if you are interested. It is certainly worth knowing the difference between vignetting caused by lenses and attachments and that caused by film or sensor surfaces.
The traditional wisdom regarding deliberate vignetting is that it shouldn’t draw attention to itself. If the first thing the viewer notices is the vignetting then the image has failed. The vignette should focus attention away from itself and towards the center of the image. The image at the top of this post follows this philosophy. Careful looking reveals the vignetting but the tree should have impacted the senses first.
Fortunately not everyone follows traditional wisdom and vignetting is often used as an artistic device to add atmospherics. Many of the old so called toy cameras produced heavily vignetted images due to very cheap and variable optics. For some time now software companies have been rushing to imitate this effect to capitalize on the huge retro movement that has sprung up. The majority of Instagram filters, for example, incorporate some degree of vignetting.
The two software programs that I use for vignetting are Lightroom 4 and Snapseed for desktop. They both do a pretty good job and provide a lot of control with Lightroom being better for fine tuning and Snapseed being the preferred choice for a more dramatic effect. The latter allows for vignetting to be combined with a graduated blur effect and this produces really good results. Lightroom allows for more control over exactly how much is allowed to show through the vignette. The photograph at the top illustrates this; The highlights in the bottom corners are not darkened by the vignetting.
On the subject of Lightroom there are two vignetting tools, a basic one that works well on an uncropped image and a post crop one which maintains the vignette regardless of an images crop. In other words if you crop an image, apply the post crop vignette then decide to recrop it the vignette readjusts to the new crop automatically. The other suggestion I’d make is to work back and forwards between the post crop vignette controls and the tone and presence sliders. this really can make or break an edit. most of the photographs on this website rely on this combination.
By Steve Johnson