lightroom vignetting tutorial

How To Add Natural Looking Vignetting In Adobe Lightroom

Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev
Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev
First, let’s start by making sure we understand what vignetting really means. Vignetting either occurs due to the optics and lens, or it can be intentionally added later in post-processing. You can recognize a vignette by looking at the outer perimeter of a photo and checking for darkened edges. Sometimes you’ll need to look closely, as the vignettes can be very subtle. This is a good thing since it’s easy to overdo a vignette. When applying vignettes, subtly is almost always better. Take a look at the example photo above, notice how the outside of the photo is slightly darker than the center? The center of the image, where the subject is often found, is typically kept bright. This is because our eyes are naturally attracted to the brightest part of the image. With vignetting, we are making our subject the brightest part of the image, thus putting the viewers focus where we want it to be. With a vignette, these darker edges create a nice visual frame, further aiding in highlighting the subject.
vignetting in Adobe Lightroom
Photo by Isabell Winter
However, the bright spot can be placed in any location where the subject is depending on the composition. It doesn’t need to be in the center. In this tutorial, I will show you how to do exactly this using Adobe Lightroom. Let’s get started…

Related Article: Free Lightroom Tutorials

Locating The Radial Filter In Adobe Lightroom

I started using the technique during my initial days in photography. To this day, I still use the technique more often than not. Although the way I made these edits has changed for the better. Initially, I was using Post-crop Vignetting, which only allowed me to brighten the center of the image. But what if my subject falls into the rule of thirds or doesn’t happen to be symmetric? That’s where the Radial Filter comes in handy. You can use it to apply manual vignetting while maintaining full creative control over which part of the photo will receive attention. You can find the Radial Filter on the left side of the adjustment panel in Lightroom. It’s just below the histogram and is the second tool from the right. I’ve made a red asterisk next to it in the screencap below to help you locate it more quickly.
advacned option
Advanced options in Lightroom
Radial Filter basically lets you create a circle anywhere in the image to control white balance, exposure, shadow, highlight, clarity, saturation, and few more inside the circle or area outside the circle. Let’s follow the steps for creating your first manual vignette.

Applying Vignetting In Lightroom Using The Radial Filter

Before we get started, you’ll need to go ahead and open a photo in Lightroom and switch over to the Develop module to start applying the edits. Once you’ve done that, feel free to make any changes to the images such as color temperature, exposure, cropping, etc. before starting the vignetting process we’re going to walk through below.

Step 1.

Click on the Radial Filter tool. Move your cursor over the part of the image you want to create vignetting around. Click and drag until you are happy with the size of the circle. You can hold down the Shift key on your keyboard while dragging out the circle to lock it into a circular shape. Alternatively, you can fine-tune the shape and size of your Radial Filter by clicking on any of the four white boxes found on the edge of the selection found at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock (see photo below for a visual reference).
Radial Filter
Applying Radial Filter in an image
When making your selection, remember, anything inside of the circle will be lighter than the area outside of the circle when we are finished with this process.

Step 2

Decrease the Exposure Slider to the minus side, making the outer selection darker. Play around with the contrast, shadow, and highlight sliders as you desire.
Changing values of slider
Changing values of slider
Keep in mind the idea is to make the surrounding areas darker. You don’t want to make any dramatic changes in appearance or your vignette will not look natural.

Step 3

Play around Feather slider to get a flawless transition on the edges of the circle. This will eliminate any harsh contrast between the dark edges as they transition into the lighter areas.
Feather for smoother transition
Remember it has to look natural–that’s secret of the most amazing photographers!

Before And After Examples

Let’s take a look at couple before and after shots of some photos my own collection to give you a better visual idea of how subtle these adjustments should be. Just drag the slider left and right on the image below to see the effect.

Before and After Sample #1

Before adding vignettingafter adding vignetting

Before and After Sample #2

before and after vignetting

Before and After Sample #2

before and after vignetting

Frequently Asked Questions

Do we need to apply vignetting to every image?

Definitely not. Landscape and Architecture are generally styles of photography where you want to showcase the whole frame and environment. Vignetting doesn’t lend itself to this very much, but I know lots of good photographers who breaks rule using vignetting on their landscape photos. Vignetting is a subjective editing process and mostly depends on the mood, image, and the photographer themselves.

How do we decide the intensity of vignetting?

If you look at the professional standard of polished work online you would realize a common thing, subtly. When editing, things have to serve a purpose to make a story complete. Unless an intense vignetting is a need of your story keep the transition smooth.
Photo by Jordan Whitt
Photo by Jordan Whitt

How Do You Add Vignetting?

One of the great things about Lightroom is that there are countless ways to do single tasks, making it easy to customize your editing workflow to suit your needs and style. And you can often find free Lightroom presets to experiment with. Do you know of another way to add vignetting to your photos? We’d love to hear about your process in the comments below. Be sure to share a photo or two so we can enjoy your awesome work, too! Our Lightroom Resources

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