Vignetting – When and Why to Vignette

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If you are anything like me you have a regular set of sites you stop at for inspiration of photos and one thing I’m noticing all the time now is Vignetting.  Vignetting is a photographic effect and it’s also a by product of super zoom lenses.  In the easiest language possible it’s when you have darkness around the perimeter of your photo.  There are all kinds of products on the market to avoid vignetting because for a very long time it was considered very bad.  But, like everything, it’s a desired taste and some photographers desire it quite a bit.  

Here’s my opinion: Vignetting is like a seventh grader learning to wear makeup.  Too much = Not good.  There is a place for vignetting and there is an amount of vignetting to do to get the results that will bring out the natural beauty in your photograph.  But if you’re creating a vignetting action and running every single photo you take through this action you are probably taking away from the beauty, complexity and the contrast that makes photography so brilliant.  This is a multi-part series post.  Today we’re going to talk about When and Why a photo is a good candidate for Vignetting.  Tomorrow we’re going to cover HOW to apply a Vignette effect using two free tools online.  And then next week we’re going to go photo editing happy and apply Vignetting in Photoshop Elements and in Photoshop (straight up – extra olives).  Then we’re going to take a step back and talk about how to avoid and deal with unwanted vignetting in photo editing softwares.

When does a vignette add to your shot?  When you have a subject(s) that are either in the center or more justified to the center of a shot.  Vignetting can help remove the distracting items that appear in the periphery of your shot.  My first step is to always crop out the distraction – but when that isn’t possible vignetting can help.  Lets look at some examples:

Example the first: A teacup.  This shot is pretty generic so it will show you the different amounts of vignetting.  No Vignette.
CassJustCurious 2009-02-08 (4)
Slight Vignette.
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Lots of Vignette.  You see how more is not better, right?
CassJustCurious 2009-02-08 (6)

Here is my Mom with Lexi.  No Vignette.  I find the valance and the door frame really distracting in this shot which is why I wanted to add some vignetting.  

CassJustCurious 2009-02-08
Here is a little bit of vignette.  I like it.  I think it makes my subjects stand out more.
CassJustCurious 2009-02-08 (1)

This is a different tone of vignette (we’ll get into this more in an upcoming post) and this is my favorite.  The focus is really on my two favorite girls in the world.
CassJustCurious 2009-02-08 (3)

Now here it is one step further.  TOO much.  
CassJustCurious 2009-02-08 (2)

This is Miss. Lexi hanging out one morning after breakfast.  She likes to do some thinking after breakfast and she lays on my pillow and soaks up the sunshine (note the lens flare – we’ll talk about that soon too).  She usually sees the camera and turns on the charm and I get big smiles.  But this is my thinking girl shot and I love it.  But the brightness in the left hand periphery is distracting to me.  So I’m going to try it and see if vignetting helps.

CassJustCurious 2009-03-12

I think it does.  I think the focus is on the brightest part of the shot – her face.  And THAT is what vignetting is all about.
CassJustCurious 2009-03-12 (1)

Now lets show a shot that has no room for vignetting.  This is Lexi’s friend and I love this shot because it just shows all this space for him to run and that’s exactly what he was doing.  RUNNING.

CassJustCurious 86

Adding vignetting to this shot completely kills this shot.  the focus is off of a running boy and room to go and it’s on burnt out – ungreen grass.  See, vignetting does not go everywhere all the time.  
CassJustCurious 86 (1)

Want to share your vignetting two cents?  Comment and upload to our Flickr Group for discussion.

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