This is a guide covering vignettes and vignetting in photography. Depending on the use case, vignetting can either be a pain in the butt or it can be a stylistic choice.
Either way, let’s learn more about it!
What is Vignetting in Photography?
A vignette is on a photograph when it has darkened edges. A vignette can make your photographs stand out and draw your audience’s eyes towards the center of the photograph.
There are several different types of vignettes such as optical, mechanical, pixel, and artificial. However, not all images look great with a vignette.
You can remove the vignettes from your photographs in post-processing or while processing them.
You just need to understand what type of vignetting you’re dealing with and adjust your equipment accordingly to remove the vignette during processing.
You can artificially add or even remove the vignette through editing software such as Lightroom.
Vignetting is an interesting phenomenon associated with photography and you should understand what it is, its causes and types, whether it’s effective or not, and how to avoid it in your photographs.
Vignetting is a term you’ll often hear if you do photography for a living or even as a hobby so you need to understand what it is.
For any photograph, vignetting can be sudden or slow, but this depends on what type of vignetting you’re dealing with and what caused it.
A vignette has multiple causes related to lens type or focal length, however, some photographers also intentionally use a vignette in their photographs to draw the viewers’ attention towards the center of the photograph like in a profile image.
What Does Vignette Do to a Photo?
In most cases, a vignette gives a photograph a black or grey-black border around the edges or the corners of the photograph.
The border can appear gradual with shading around the borderline or abrupt with a concise and clear circle.
What a vignette does to a photo is to help to bring the viewer’s focus to the center of the image or at the central object in the photograph.
It helps to remove the lines or objects in the corners that might distract the eye from the center.
A subtle vignette is a great tool to subtly draw your viewer’s eye to the object near or around the center of the image without cutting off or blackening the corners as a hard vignette does.
Vignettes are often used to add a retro or vintage look to photographs.
This is because old cameras produced pictures with a vignette because of the quality of the machinery and other factors. Hence, retro is often associated with vignetting.
What Causes Vignetting?
A vignette can form due to the equipment used such as the lens, lens hoods, filters, and even the focal length of the camera.
If your camera is set to a short focal length, there is a greater chance of a vignette forming.
A vignette can be caused by the lens type your camera contains e.g, Telephoto produces a large and sharp vignette so lens type matters.
It can also be a result of wrong camera settings or too many filters on top of your camera lens.
Whatever the cause of the vignette, vignetting can be desirable depending on your photograph type.
Types of Vignetting?
There are several types of vignettes and some can be due to the equipment you use or you can purposefully add a vignette to your photograph with Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom and other editing software.
1. Optical Vignetting
Also known as lens vignette, this type of vignetting is related to the lens aperture size and the number of elements that the lens has.
In large-aperture lenses, the light doesn’t reach the corners of the sensor because the lens barrel ends up stopping the light from entering the lens.
Moreover, with more elements, the light intensity gets reduced by the time it reaches the sensor, like in a rectangular sensor, and this will lead to darkened corners and a vivid center in your photographs.
2. Mechanical Vignetting
Mechanical vignetting is also called accessory vignetting. It’s caused due to using filters, filter stacks, and other such accessories.
In smaller aperture cameras, mechanical vignettes can be prominent in an upsetting way.
Wide-angle camera lenses often have a lens hood. This lens hood is there to prevent ghosting and flares in your images.
To an extent, these lens hoods can cause vignetting but only if you’re using a third-party lens hood instead of the camera’s original lens hood.
Original lens hoods are specifically designed for that particular camera lens so they don’t lead to vignettes in pictures.
Camera lenses are designed with some slack to allow photographers to mount filter hoods onto the camera and these filters help to add a vignette to your images.
If you want a vignette in your pictures, you can rent and test out a couple of filter hoods and filter combinations and see if they offer what you want.
3. Pixel Vignetting
Also called digital vignetting, the pixel vignette is a result of the design of digital cameras.
They have a flat, rectangular sensor and a curved lens. The light hits the sensor’s pixel in the center at 90-degree angles and the corners or edges at slanting angles.
As a result, the image has darkened corners.
A pixel vignette can’t be removed or reduced by increasing the focal length of the lens (decreasing the aperture size).
This is because this vignette is a result of the angles at which light enters the camera lens.
4. Artificial Vignetting
In some types of photographs, the effect of vignetting can appear pleasing to the eye and can act as an invisible guide to lead the viewers across the image or where you want them to look.
To get a vignette in photographs, photographers often leave the vignette during processing without removing it afterward.
You can intentionally create a vignette by using a combination of filters or other effects.
You can adjust the camera lens setting and test out a couple of filters to find the desired vignette effect that you want if you want to have a vignette instantly added when you snap a shot.
Otherwise, you can use editing tools to add a vignette.
To learn how to create a vignette in photoshop, check out this video:
Is Vignetting Good or Bad?
Vignetting can be good or bad depending on what type of picture you want and the subject of your image.
Photographs with an object in the center e.g, in a profile picture or other types of images, don’t suffer much from vignettes because it makes the viewers focus more on the center of the photograph and that is what the photographer wanted in the first place.
However, for landscape photographs or architectural images, where you want the viewers to see the entire picture and all its components, a vignette will render the edges black and cut off the whole image that the photograph was supposed to represent.
While a subtle vignette is a great way to lead your viewer’s eye across the photo, not all photos need a vignette.
Most photos will look great with just light editing, etc so always plan out and decide if the picture looks great with a vignette or without it.
One good way to check is to compare the original photo and the photo with a vignette.
How Do You Stop Vignetting?
While subtle vignetting can make your photographs pop, a vignette might not suit all photographs. To make them pleasing to the eye, you can remove or altogether avoid them.
Remove Optical Vignette
To reduce an optical vignette, you can increase the focal length. This will reduce the aperture size so that a vignette can be prevented or reduced.
Take a test shot with your camera and if it has vignetting, set the aperture to f/8 and try again. Keep trying and changing the focal length of the lens until the vignette gets reduced.
Remove Mechanical Vignette
Mechanical vignetting can be removed by using the correct lens and lens hood combination and not using too many filters or filter stacks.
Only use the filter you need, for example, you might not need the sky flyer and the UV filter with the polarizer.
You can also crop the vignette from the image.
If you’re planning to crop it, then give your shot a wider berth so that when you crop the image, the parts you wanted in the image don’t end up getting cropped along with the vignette.
It’s a good idea to use lenses with smaller apertures instead of lenses with open apertures e.g, Telephoto lenses, that lead to ample vignetting effect.
Moreover, if your camera lens produces a vignette, it’s not a good idea to leave the parasol behind. This parasol or sun visor can help to reduce or completely remove the vignette.
To further explore the subject of avoiding vignetting, check out this in-depth video by Digital Goja:
You can choose to leave the vignettes in your photographs depending on what type of picture it is and whether the vignette suits it or not.
If you don’t want a vignette, you can engineer your camera’s equipment to remove it or use editing software to remove it or crop it out from the image.
Vignetting is a helpful phenomenon when used right but can make a professional look like a rookie in the eyes of your audience.
It’s best to be vigilant with vignettes and choose carefully whether your photograph needs a vignette or not.
Jon has been a passionate photographer for 10+ years. Fun fact is that he has a collection of around 300-400 cameras that his family has collected over the years. Outside of photography, he has a Masters Degree in Engineering and has 13 years experience working in the industry across the globe.