How to vignette in PhotoShop and LightRoom

What is vignetting and what is it used for?


A vignette is a reduction (or addition) of brightness towards the edges of your photo. I use vignetting to draw my viewers focus towards the center of the photo or away from brighter areas along the edges of my frame. Since your viewers eye will typically be drawn to brighter and higher contrast areas of the image the vignette can be a powerful tool to redirect where the viewers eyes will travel! Keep in mind while you edit that a vignette can be a powerful tool if used correctly but is easily overdone and one of the most obvious editing mistakes I see consistently. It is noticeable. Be subtle.

Why isn’t always the best idea to vignette around your entire frame?

Its not natural looking! When you make a smooth gradient that progressively gets darker as it gets closer to the edge of your frame the normal separation of highlights and shadows will look odd. It’s not hard to tell when there are highlight areas in a vignette that are no longer highlights.

Check out the two techniques below for an easy way to blend your vignette into your image!

What else can this photoshop technique be used for?

So much! The tools you will learn to use here are applicable to any adjustment layer you want to use.


I use apply image on:

Brightness/ contrast layers to separate lighter tones from darker tones to edit in two parts; Black and white layer to reduce color in shadows; Blend any adjustment into the image;


I use the Underlying Layer slider in the Layer Style menu to:

Remove an adjustment from dark or light tones; Quickly limit a layer to only effect the sky (bright tones) after a quick and sloppy layer mask;


Watch the tutorial or keep scrolling for a more descriptive write-up!


Before you read on, keep this in mind: post crop vignetting takes about 1 minute to dial in and the Photoshop method takes about 3-5 minutes when you know what tools to use! I typically use the LR method on quick or batch edits and the Photoshop method on paid work and passion projects!

Lets continue…



Post Crop Vignetting


The easiest way to take highlights out of your vignette! The post crop vignette tool is located in the Effects panel in LR. Make sure the “style” is set to highlight priority!

For visual learners, click through the slideshows of screenshots of menus and panels!


Customize your vignette

Set your vignette amount to -50 so that you can see where it’s vignetting.

Next, use the midpoint slider to define your vignettes midpoint.

Now, one slider down will adjust the roundness of the vignette. Do you want a more circular vignette or a square? Possibly somewhere in between?

Now with the feather slider adjust how soft you would want the vignette to be. I typically will set this between 50 and 80.

Finally, the highlight slider! This is what really differentiates the post crop vignette tool from a standard vignette (as found in the lens corrections panel.) This slider will make highlights show through your vignette and blend it into your image.


You’re done! It’s as simple as that.



Brightness/Contrast, Apply Image, and Layer Style


Make a brightness/contrast layer (steps below take place on your brightness/ contrast layer mask).

Set brightness to -50 to make the next steps easier to dial in.

Select your layer mask on brightness/contrast layer.

Invert your layer mask using the keyboard shortcut ⌘i (Mac) or ctrl i (Windows).

Paint white (brush set to 0% hardness, 5-20% flow) on your layer mask to define where you want your vignette to appear.


In top drop down menu:


Apply image (Blending: multiply, invert, 80-100% opacity, invert box checked to mask out highlights.)

What does apply image do? Since we’re talking about using it on layer masks, it will put a black and white copy of your photo on your layer mask. Since black conceals and white reveals, your layer mask is masking out (not effecting) the lighter tones of your photo.

Why is setting your blending mode to multiply so important? By selecting the multiply blending mode, it will only effect the white (visible) area of your layer mask!


Double click your brightness/contrast layer to open the "Layer Style" menu. If you click in places other than the highlighted spots below, it will bring up properties (double click on brightness symbol), select the layer mask, or try to change the name (by double clicking the name).


On the "Underlying Layer" slider, hold down the alt/option key and click and drag the left side of the white slider to separate for a smoother transition (adjust to your liking).



Reset your brightness/ contrast layer (0 the sliders).

Adjust the brightness and contrast to control the effect of your vignette!


Flip through the slideshow to see how each technique looks or compare the Lightroom and Photoshop edits below!


What are the differences between the photos below?

My Thoughts

Reference the photos above as you read.


You almost can’t tell we’ve applied a vignette! Since we were able to target exactly where we want our vignette to show and then did two different steps to blend it with our image, I was able to get deeper mid-tones and shadows without effecting our highlights and lighter mid-tones! If we made our mid-tones and shadows this much darker with the LR technique, it would result in a noticeable dark gradient.


Notice the vignetting on the top left corner. The highlight slider took your vignette out of the sky and a few brights spots on the pads, but it will still show in our midtowns and shadows.

Also the vignette is an obvious(ish) smooth gradient still in our midtowns and shadows which takes away from the natural look that I strive for.


Jeff…All of those photos look the same!

Right?! It’s subtle! Edits build on each other so we want to be careful to not over-do it. The goal of vignetting isn’t to darken mass areas around our image but rather to subtly draw the viewers eyes away from the edges of our frame. If you need to darken a mass area, use the same Photoshop technique that I described above. Target your layer mask to the area you want to effect which can take the place of Dodge/Burn tools while blending with your image better.


Thoughts? Leave a comment below! What do you want to learn next?

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