Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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Like lens flare, extreme high contrast, and all the other effects that are oh-too-easy to apply in digital post-processing, the vignette effect is overused. So I ask this question in all seriousness, with the goal of making better pictures.

When does the application of a vignette effect contribute to (and when does it work against) the quality of the resulting image?

And--an even better question--how can I know when to use it appropriately to improve my final image?

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I voted to close this question because "it is subjective and potentially argumentative It's impossible to objectively answer this question; questions of this type are too open ended and usually lead to confrontation and argument." – Jay Lance Photography Apr 2 '11 at 5:26
As a further note, I was just reading an answer mattdm posted… in response to a meta question on appropriate subject matter for Photo SE. This question may or may not be a good example, but aren't all questions that stray away from the technical side of photography going to involve a certain amount of open-endedness? – Sean Apr 2 '11 at 6:38
Possibly. Or possibly I'm wrong (and that's OK with me if I am- that's why the community is the final arbiter of what is an appropriate question, not the individual). :-) Perhaps if you rephrased the "crime against good taste" portion of your question it would sit better... As it stands your question reads as argumentative/borderline insulting to me when thinking about it in terms of the person who may find the site via a web search who is a big fan of vignetting... After all, we can probably both agree that vignetting and how much of it to apply to ones pictures is a subjective topic at best. – Jay Lance Photography Apr 2 '11 at 7:30
@Jay, it is an important technique so I think it is worthwhile asking for guidelines to apply it. In photography we can't avoid subjective questions but I agree with you that subjective questions need to be carefully formulated. Failure to do that has a high potential to create damaging dissent or controversy. – labnut Apr 2 '11 at 8:52
@Itai, your dislike of vignetting is hardly a reason to judge something as too subjective and therefore to close it. Is this site for technicians or photographers? – labnut Apr 3 '11 at 20:32
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I would argue that the vignette effect cannot be overused. It is only inappropriate or bad use of vignette that can be overused.

If you've ever watched an episode of Top Gear and paid attention, you'd notice that basically every single outdoor shot has had vignette effect applied to it.

It doesn't detract from the show (well, at least not most of the time). In my mind it's proof that done a certain way and applied to certain material, the vignette effect can be used basically all the time and not detract from the material.

Bad use of vignette may involve:

  • Adding vignette over the top of overexposure (white highlights) or where you don't have headroom in the highlights. What should be highlights become yucky gray mush.

  • Using the same, smooth, oval-shaped vignette no matter what the subject or where in the frame a subject is. If your subject is off-centre, shape your vignette so it's off-centre. Try also making your vignette more harsh-edged.

  • Using vignette where it doesn't really enhance the contrast or pop of an image but actually has the opposite effect, de-emphasising interesting details.

  • Some vignetting algorithms/filters just seem to be made badly, causing colours to become dull and towards gray instead of more contrasty and towards black. Technically I believe this is because it does not account for the values already being gamma corrected.

It's hard to think of other examples. It may be hard to describe what bad vignette is, but it's obvious when you see it.

Good vignette, on the other hand, boosts contrast, makes an image more edgy, especially the subject within the image. It may even give a framing effect.

Here are some better examples of vignette that I found when researching this answer.

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+1 for not vignetting overexposed areas. It also looks awful when vignetting (or any other darkening effect, e.g. dodging/burning) is done to pale skin tones without attention to the horrid unnatural grey colours that result! – Matt Grum Apr 2 '11 at 11:26
+1 for providing lots of examples - that really helps. (Although the "yucky gray mush" link starts loading and then I end up with a blank page - maybe I need to be logged in). – Hamish Downer Apr 2 '11 at 17:56
Actually, I can view the page source (really long) and found the image link: - not sure why the page goes wrong. I use Chromium on Ubuntu Linux. – Hamish Downer Apr 2 '11 at 17:58
Ah that'd be a photobucket link. I've replaced it with some different examples. – thomasrutter Apr 3 '11 at 9:02
My point was that anybody who says vignette effect is overused is probably referring to bad or inappropriate use of vignette. If done well it is just another tool, just like burn/dodge, with which to add some interest to your image. – thomasrutter Apr 3 '11 at 14:20

It’s not a crime when:

  1. It enhances the photo by drawing the eye to the subject.
  2. It darkens the corners, but doesn’t make the corners black.

I forget where I read it, but someone recommended playing with vignette until you were happy, then reducing that by about half. It’s something that should be subtle, instead of right in your face. Put another way: You should be able to easily see the difference if you toggle the effect on and off, but you shouldn’t immediately notice it when it’s on.

Look at it this way: Do you consider dodging a crime against good taste? A vignette is just applying the same dodge to multiple photos.

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Thanks! Your advice helps me to pin down the features that differentiate between good and bad use of the effect, and it gives me some insight into what better photographers than I know to look for when they edit or post-process an image. – Sean Apr 2 '11 at 6:09
I'd disagree with point 2 - sometimes making the corners black may be a legitimate artistic technique. – thomasrutter Apr 2 '11 at 7:54
I am not sure why, but vignetting seems to look more appropriate in monochrome pictures. Also I find that I dislike vignetting when viewing an image on screen but like it when viewing a large print. I wonder if other people have similar views? – labnut Apr 2 '11 at 8:59
I'd say it heavily depends on the artistic effect you're going for and how well you do it. I'd say this is horrible, whereas something like this has a certain artistic legitimacy to it, even though it's much heavier. – thomasrutter Apr 3 '11 at 9:48

This is something I've asked my self more frequently since the whole switch to digital. In times gone by I would only rarely add mild vignetting to images, if they needed it. With modern software it's become so easy to create a myriad of vignette styles, I must admit to using it much more frequently. Certainly when displaying stuff on the web, I feel a stronger look can make images stand out a bit, the web is stuffed with images and making some visual impact is important. With this in mind, I think it's important not to get to hung-up about the right and wrongs, do what works for the image given certain viewing conditions, and the market. My work is nearly all wedding photography, and again a strong style is important, if strong vignetting helps to define a 'style' so be it, I'm not there yet but things change, who knows.

Interesting subject

Graham Morgan

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