Using Vignettes in Landscape Photography

Vignettes are nothing new in photography. In fact, the technique of using vignettes in landscape photography is nothing new either. Photographers have always used vignettes to pull attention to specific portions of a photograph. Take a look at your favorite photographer’s portfolio. It’s probably got vignettes in 50% of the photos.

Vignettes in landscape photography act a lot like leading lines. They pull the viewer’s eyes into the photograph to the exact point where you want them to be looking, which is usually in the center of the frame. They do such a great job in doing so that people don’t even realize that they are being pulled to a specific point.

Even though vignettes and the techniques of using them hasn’t changed very much, I believe it’s time for photographers to be mindful of them even before the point of post-processing occurs. Photographers should be visualizing the final product in order to frame a subject that will use a vignette effectively. Sometimes everything will come together and you’ll be able to use your vision throughout the editing process.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of using vignettes in landscape photography so you can effectively and strategically implement the technique into your own photography!

The Classic Vignette

The classic vignette in photography darkens the corners and sides of the frame to pull your attention to the center of the photo rather than directly to something other than the subject. Now, the objective you want to be going for when using the classic vignette technique is to darken the edges just enough that you barely notice the vignette, and that you can still explore and appreciate objects that are in the darker regions.

The natural progression of the eyes moves throughout a photograph when looking at it. So, you don’t want people to not be able to see anything in the corners and edges of the photograph because of a vignette that’s too dark.

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In the photo example, the corners and edges are just dark enough to still be able to explore what is in those areas. The slight vignette also pulls your attention directly to the barn which is the subject of the photo.

Using Vignettes to Show Edges

The process is still the same, a simple adjustment in Photoshop or a simple slider in Lightroom darkens the edges and corners of a photograph. But, the effect can be very different from photograph to photograph. Periodically, I’ll use vignettes to show differences in shadows and highlights of edges near the corners of the frame.

A vignette will naturally darken shadowed areas more than areas that are in the light. Think about it this way; it’s like putting on sunglasses on a cloudy day versus putting on sunglasses on a sunny day. Your vision will be darker with sunglasses on a cloudy day than on a sunny day. Vignettes do the same thing with shadows and highlights.

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In this photo example, there was a distinct edge to a sand dune that had shadowed areas closer to the bottom corners of the frame. With a slightly longer exposure than what I wanted for this photo, the shadows were not as dark as I wanted them to be which make the edge of the sand dune seem very gradual and soft. However, when adding just a slight vignette, it darkened the shadows more while leaving the highlights at the top of the frame bright, thus allowing me to show a harder edge of the sand dune.

Vignettes can be used in so many different creative ways if you train your eyes to see contrast and possibility in a photo.

Using Vignettes to Show Tones

Remember what we talked about in the last section; a vignette will naturally darken shadowed areas more than areas that are in the light. So, why can’t you use the same strategy to change the way people see colors and tones in a photograph? Well, the short answer is that you can, but let’s dive a little deeper than that.

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In this example, I was in a cave and the light coming into the cave was reflecting off of the roof of the cave and really reducing the amount of tones that you could see with the naked eye. I had to use a fairly long exposure to create some detail in the foreground, so I wanted to use a vignette to allow people to see the same color tones I was seeing on the roof of the cave.

Using a vignette, I was able to create the same effect I was seeing while I was there in the cave. The real challenge for this example to balancing so much dynamic range in one photo. I actually didn’t use the vignette slider in Lightroom for this photo like I did with the other two. No, for this one, I had to dodge and burn the darker and lighter areas of the photo to create the effect I wanted. So, you can actually create your own vignettes using dodging and burning to bring out specific effect from a landscape!

Next time you’re out in nature, take a moment to inspect the landscape and visualize where and when a vignette would be appropriate.

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