Vignetting in photography refers to the darkening of the corners of an image in relation to the center. It’s also referred to as “light falloff”.
Vignetting can either be caused by the optics of a lens or added in post-processing intentionally for artistic effect. Vignetting can be used to draw attention away from distracting elements in the corners of a frame.
Vignetting can range from subtle to prominent and obvious. Vignetting occurs naturally in all lenses to some degree, but it can also be caused by external accessories such as lens hoods, filters, and filter holders.
So if you’re wondering “what is vignetting in photography?” we take a look at the causes of vignetting, when to use it/not use it in photography, and how to add it or remove it from your images in post.
Types & Causes of Vignetting
When viewing images, there are several different types of vignetting that you may come across.
The optical design of lenses can cause some types of vignetting, while others can occur when using third-party accessories such as filters and extended hoods, and some can be artificially created by the photographer in post-production. Let’s take a closer look at each of the types.
Optical vignetting is a natural phenomenon that happens in all lenses to some extent. On some lenses (particularly low-quality lenses), optical vignetting is very pronounced, while it’s not even noticeable on other lenses.
The most severe vignetting happens with lenses with very wide maximum apertures. That’s because the lens barrel partially blocks light from entering the lens.
Pixel vignetting is a problem that only affects digital cameras.
Unlike optical vignetting, pixel vignetting only happens with image sensors, as opposed to film cameras.
Digital camera sensors are flat and the pixels all face the same direction. Pixels closer to the middle of the sensor take in light at a 90-degree angle, whereas pixels in the corners receive light rays at an angle. As a result, the pixels in the corners of the sensor receive slightly less light than those in the center, resulting in darker edges of the frame.
Reducing the size of your aperture doesn’t get rid of pixel vignetting like you can do with optical vignetting because it is solely a result of how light hits pixels in the edges of the frame differently from the middle.
Mechanical vignetting may occur as a consequence of the incorrect kind of lens hood or filter being used.
Lens hoods are designed to reduce ghosting, flare, and decreased contrast from internal reflections. However, many lens hoods from third-party manufacturers aren’t optimized for the lenses they sell them for.
In addition, mechanical vignetting may happen when you use filters that aren’t the proper size for your camera or lens.
Vignettes are easy to add to your photos in post-processing. You can use them to create a mood or draw attention to the center of the frame.
Should You Use Vignetting in Your Photos?
Vignetting is technically an optical flaw of camera lenses, but sometimes it’s aesthetically pleasing and makes images look better.
When to Use Vignetting
Vignettes work well when you want to draw attention to the center of the frame. A vignette can also help keep the viewer focused on the main subject.
Some lenses have natural vignetting that you may find pleasing. In that case, there’s no need to reduce the vignetting in post-processing.
Vignetting can work well for portraits in particular. Since you’ll frequently position your subject in portraits around the center of the frame, vignetting in the corners can help draw attention to the subject.
Vignetting is a subjective subject, so you as the photographer get to play around with the level of vignetting in your photos and determine with is aesthetically pleasing to your eye.
When to Avoid Vignetting/Fix It
Vignettes are great when used properly. However, they can be a detriment to photos as well.
When to creatively use vignetting is a stylistic choice, so only you can really decide how much vignetting you want when you’re editing your photos. If I had to give a general guideline though, it would be to avoid vignetting when the corners of the frame include important information to the photo.
How to Incorporate Vignetting into Your Photos
There are two main ways to create a vignette: in-camera or in the editing process.
There are a few things you can do while photographing that result in more vignetting. Some of them include:
- Shoot wide open/wider apertures
- Use a big lens hood
- Use lenses that have a lot of vignetting. This could mean lower quality lenses or lenses with long barrels
- Use very wide-angle lenses. Wide-angle lenses tend to have more vignetting because the pixels in the corners are at more of an angle to the light
- Use lens filters and other accessories. Some filters reduce the amount of light that enters the camera lens.
How to add vignettes in Post-Processing
You can easily add a vignette using whatever photo editing software you prefer.
In Lightroom, you increase or decrease vignetting under the ‘Lens Corrections’ tab. There, you’ll find sliders for vignetting. You can move the slider to the left to add vignetting or to the right to take it away. Using this function is the most natural-looking way to create a vignette in post-processing because it uses the existing vignetting from the photo.
If you’ve cropped your image, you can do post-crop vignetting under the ‘Effects’ tab, and making the adjustments works the same way. In my opinion, using the post-crop vignetting function doesn’t look quite as natural as the other option, but it’s a very minor difference that no one would notice.
How to Correct Vignetting
You can also use Lightroom or your photo editing software of choice to correct vignetting.
Here is the easiest way to do it if you just want to reduce natural lens vignetting:
In the Develop module, go to ‘Lens Corrections’ and check ‘Enable Profiles Corrections’. That does a great job of reducing any vignetting that was a result of the lens you used.
The vast majority of lenses are supported by Lightroom, but that’s not always the case. If you used a third-party lens, it’s more likely that Lightroom won’t recognize your lens. In that case, you may need to remove vignetting manually by using the sliders under ‘Lens Corrections’ or ‘Effects’.
If you use a photo editing program other than Lightroom, you’ll be able to make the same adjustments, but things will likely be labeled differently so you may have to poke around.
Vignetting is a common issue in photography. It happens when light rays come from different angles and converge at a camera sensor. Pixels closer to the edges of the sensor receive less light than the pixels in the center. This causes the edges of an image to be darker than the center.
Vignetting is not always a bad thing in photography and is used frequently in a creative or artistic way. Vignetting can improve a photo’s composition if it reduces distractions in the corner of the frame and draws attention to the subject of an image.
If you don’t like vignetting, you can always easily remove it in post-processing. Likewise, if you want vignetting for a particular image, you can always add it in later.