How to make a vignette in Photoshop

Do you want to learn a quick trick for drawing attention to specific areas of a photo? 

If you think vignette, you may think of an old photo with a heavy black frame. This was certainly a vignette of old. Nowadays, we can use a more subtle approach, to great effect.

 
Do you want to learn a quick trick for drawing attention to specific areas of a photo using Photoshop? If you think vignette, you may think of an old photo with a heavy black frame. This was certainly a vignette of old. Nowadays, we use a more subtle approach, to great effect. itsorganised.com photoshop video tutorial
 
 

WHAT IS A VIGNETTE?

A vignette is a gradient, moving from the centre to the edge of a photograph. The gradients usually get darker as they reach the edge of the photo, but gradients can also get lighter. It's a technique often used in portraits to draw attention to the subject and take attention away from the background. 

The photograph used in the video example has been chosen to make the effect obvious to see, as things don’t always translate as well on video. It would be even better on an image where you have more background, making the vignette softer. 

Don’t be tempted to overdo this one. If in doubt, tone it down. Vignettes work best when applied subtly.  

The effect needn’t be limited to portraits. You could use a vignette on a busy image to draw the eye to a product, object or area you want people to focus on. 

 

VIDEO TUTORIAL

This video will show you how to:

  • Create a radial gradient.
  • Use a mask to protect an particular area of the photograph from the gradient.
 
 

THE STEP BY STEP

CREATING THE GRADIENT

  • Start by creating a new layer above your photograph. This will be your vignette layer.
  • Select the Gradient Tool (shortcut G) from the Tool Bar on the left. If you can’t see it, it may be hidden underneath the Paint Bucket Tool. Click and hold on the Paint Bucket to get a fly-out menu.
  • Set your Foreground and Background colours at the bottom of the Tool Bar back to their default Black & White (shortcut D).
  • On the Options Panel, select the Gradient Style. You want the second option — Black-to-Transparency.
  • Select the Type of Gradient. You want the second option again, Radial Gradient.
  • At the right-hand side of the Options Panel, check Reverse. This will change the gradient to Transparency-to-Black.
  • Choose the centre point of the person/object you want to highlight on your photo. Click down on this point and drag your mouse to any corner of your photo before letting go.
  • At this point, the gradient will look too dark. 
  • With the vignette layer selected, dial back the Transparency of the layer to around 20-30%. This will vary from one image to another. You are aiming for a subtle darkening at the edges of the image. If in doubt, tone it down. 


BRIGHTENING THE FACE

The model in the video fills most of the photograph. This means that the gradient also touches her face on her forehead and chin. On an image with more background, this may not cause a problem.

The face can be brightened in two ways. You could dial back the strength of the vignette by reducing the opacity of the layer. If this isn’t enough, as in this example, you can brighten the face by adding a layer mask and masking (protecting) the face from the effects of the vignette.

  • With the vignette layer selected, click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layer stack (a rectangle with a circle inside).
  • With the Layer Mask selected, choose the Brush Tool from the Tool Bar.
  • Set the Brush to a Soft Round Brush, Flow 30%
  • Set your Foreground Colour to Black.
  • Paint over the face area to brighten and remove the effect of the vignette.
  • The area you are painting will appear as black on the Layer Mask thumbnail in your Layer Panel.
  • If you make a mistake and want to reapply the vignette, just change your Brush to White and paint that area again.


BEFORE & AFTER

It’s a subtle difference, but it’s surprising how effective it is at drawing your eye to her face. The image was a lovely photo before. But, with the vignette added, her face seems to glow.

 
Do you want to learn a quick trick for drawing attention to specific areas of a photo using Photoshop? If you think vignette, you may think of an old photo with a heavy black frame. This was certainly a vignette of old. Nowadays, we use a more subtle approach, to great effect. itsorganised.com photoshop video tutorial
 

The one thing to remember if you want to use vignettes successfully is, less is more. If in doubt, tone it down. The subtle change will still be surprisingly effective.

Why not try this technique on a portrait of your own?

It can also be used to good effect on a busy image, say a room shot, with a lot going on in the background that you'd prefer people not to focus on.

It is so quick to do, it is definitely a useful technique to add to your photo editing toolbox.