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How to Add Edge Darkening (Vignette) Effects

There are two types of vignetting: The first is the “bad” vignette, which is caused by your lens, and it’s when you see dark areas in the corners of your image (I’ll show you how to get rid of this on page 284). Then, there’s the “good” vignette, which doesn’t just appear in the corners. It’s a very popular effect that evenly darkens the edges all around your entire image to draw the viewer’s eye toward the center. I use this as a finishing effect with a subtle enough amount you wouldn’t even know I’ve added a vignette until you toggle its visibility on/off. Then you’ll realize how much a subtle vignette can add.

Step One:

Here’s our original image, and we want to subtly darken the outside edges all the way around to draw the viewer’s eye to the center and de-emphasize parts that don’t matter as much. Plus, it just looks good (as long as it’s subtle. If you go too far, 2004 will call and ask for their vignette back). Scroll down to the Effects panel in the right side panels, and you’ll see the vignette controls right at the top (it’s called “Post-Crop Vignetting” because if you crop the image, it will automatically re-adjust itself, so the effect doesn’t get cropped away). At the top of this section is the Style pop-up menu and you have three choices: (1) Highlight Priority (the default), (2) Color Priority, and (3) Paint Overlay (though the only one that looks good is Highlight Priority, so it’s the only one I ever use).

Step Two:

The Amount slider determines how dark the edges will be, so go ahead and drag it over to –25 (as I did here) and it adds a fairly subtle edge darkening all the way around the outside edge of your image. Now, looking at this, you might think, “I’m not sure it really did anything,” but this will help: in the left side of the panel header is a toggle switch (circled here in red), which turns on/off the effect. Toggle that bad boy on/off a few times and you’ll be like, “Ohhhhh. Wow, that does make a difference.” Give it a try and you’ll see.

Step Three:

There’s only one more slider you might adjust here from time to time and that’s the Midpoint slider. It controls how far your darkening extends from the edges into your image. Its default setting is actually really good, but to totally “get” what this sliders does, we’re going to create something that looks pretty awful (as seen here), but it will really help the learning process. In that Effects panel, drag the Feather slider all the way to the left to zero, which gives you a fairly hard edge (as seen here, but outside of this exercise, I never touch the Feather slider—I leave it set at its default of 50). Okay, now drag the Midtone slider back and forth a few times (I also decreased the Amount to –33), and you’ll see the oval’s size change. As you drag to the right, the oval grows and less and less of the image is getting darkened (the area outside the oval). This will make a lot more sense when you drag the slider yourself, but you can see here, where I made the oval really large, that pretty much just the areas in the corners are getting darkened. If I drag the slider farther to the right, making the oval even bigger, the darkening will literally be only in the corners.

Step Four:

I don’t ever mess with the Roundness slider (and you probably won’t either), but it controls how round the vignette is. (While you still have the Feather amount set to zero, drag the Roundness slider back and forth to see how it affects the oval. Okay, now reset your Feather amount to 50.) So, I use this edge vignetting in my own workflow as a “finishing move”—something I add at the very end to give the image that little finishing touch—and I have a magic number that I use pretty much every time that adds a very subtle amount (again, toggle it on/off to see what a difference it makes—it’s so subtle no one knows I even added it). So, what is this magic number? It’s –11. Anti-climatic, I know, but that’s what I use.

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