A good composition is about directing the viewer through the image. One of the many ways that effective photographers do this is by directing the light.

Vignettes are a powerful tool in doing this. And best of all, it’s easy to do!

What’s a vignette?

A vignette is simply a reduction of an image’s brightness or saturation around the edges when compared to the center of the image. A vignette might occur naturally through the lens you use, particularly if you photograph with a very wide aperture. Or we can add it easily through post-processing.

It is easy to create vignettes!

In this example, I will use Adobe Lightroom Classic. However, you can use just about any program and achieve the same vignettes. I will show you using an example of a night photo. However, you may apply vignettes to any kind of photo. It is up to you!

Above, there already appears to be a little bit of vignetting in the original photo. However, the main reason the subject is brighter is because I lit the car grille during the exposure. I let everything else become a little more underexposed.

The lights in the distance are more or less in the center, and also aid in creating interest near the center. I have placed the brightest part of the sky directly over the highest part of the car grille for maximum effect.

Creating a vignette using Lightroom Classic

Above, under the Effects panel, there are controls for Post-Crop Vignetting. You probably already know what to do! Mess around with the controls and get something you like.

I find that for most applications, a small amount of vignetting is all that is needed. Most of the time, you might not want to draw attention to the fact that there is vignetting. Subtlety is key. Here, the amount is just a little.

I have also increased the feathering. This controls how gradually the vignette darkens.

See how easy that was?

Heavy-handed vignetting and hard feathering

Just for fun, I thought I would create an extreme example of vignetting. As you cay see, the Amount slider has been moved to the left considerably. And so has the Feathering slider. This is the opposite of a very gradual, subtle gradation from light to dark. For some photos, this might work. For most … probably not.

Vignette controls may already be on your phone!

You don’t need to have Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar, Affinity or other programs to create vignettes. There’s a great chance that you have controls for this on your phone already. Most phones already have simple photo editing features.

See if you have one on your phone. The Photos app on iPhones, for instance, has the capability to create vignettes easily, similar to what I’ve shown here.

Directing the light to the subject

Subconsciously, the eyes of the viewers tend to go toward the brighter, more colorful parts of an image. Vignettes are one more tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks for doing so. It also has the subtle effect of almost cradling or framing the image.

What sort of photos do you think can benefit from vignettes? Portraits? Sports? Birds? Wedding? Fine art?

When you next look at photos, see if the photographer has used vignettes to direct your light toward the subject.