How to Use the Vignette Effect in Apple Photos

The vignette is an interesting effect that you can use to highlight some of your photos. By darkening the edges of a photo, in a circular or oval shape, you put more attention on the center of the picture, leading the eye to what you’ve shot. Here’s an example:

Vignette1

Vignettes are very effective in symmetrical photos, as above. They make it look as though there’s a subtle spotlight on the center of the image, or as if you’re peering through a hole. In the photo of the pinecone, the effect is quite strong, but given the circular nature of the subject, and the stone background, it doesn’t look overdone.

Vignettes generally work best when they’re subtle, when you can barely see them:

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In the photo above, I used a very slight vignette, mainly to darken the leg of the table at the top right of the photo. I don’t need it to draw attention to the subject, because given the position of Rosalind the Cat, she is the center of focus. But without the vignette, that table leg looks a bit intrusive. The vignette can be used like this to slightly mask objects in the background.

Note that in some cases, vignetting is an unwanted artifact of your lens; if you shoot with the aperture all the way open (the lowest f stop), you may see some vignetting caused by the elements of your lens. If that happens, stop the lens down a bit, moving to a higher f stop. This said, you may find that the vignetting caused by your lens works well for certain photos.

Vignettes can be very effective with landscapes as well. In this photo, I added a slight vignette effect to pull the eye toward the center, since there is no fixed subject. You barely notice the vignette, since the corners all contain dark objects, but I find that a slight vignette in this type of picture leads the eye subtly toward the center.

Vignette3

You can easily use the vignette effect in Apple Photos. Select a photo and click the Edit Photo button in the toolbar, or press Return. You’ll see the editing interface. Next, click Adjust, to see the various adjustment tools available. If you only see a few adjustment tools, click Add at the top of the Adjustments column and choose Vignette.

Note that you should only use the vignette effect after you’ve cropped your photos. Otherwise, you may crop some of the gradient, and your photos will look unbalanced.

Vignette controlTo start with, hover over the controller and click the Auto button. Photos will apply a vignette based on the intensity and composition of your image. It may not be ideal, but that’s fine; you can tweak the settings. This auto setting will give you an idea how the vignette will look on the photo. If you click the checkmark to the left of the word Vignette, you can turn off the effect. Click it, then click again to toggle between the original photo and the version with the vignette to see the difference.

Next, you can alter three settings using sliders. They are:

  • Strength tells Photos how much gradient there should be in the vignette; how dark it should be, as it spreads from the edges to the center of the photo. Slide this to the right; try with different settings to see what works. Note that if you leave the slider at the center, then there is no vignette effect. If you slide to the left you get a negative vignette; that is, instead of the edges of the photo darkening, they get lighter. This effect isn’t usually as attractive as a dark vignette, but you might want to use it on photos with a light background.
  • Radius is the size of the vignette’s circle or oval. (For square photos, it’s a circle; for rectangular photos, it’s an oval). Try dragging the slider to see how this changes. With the slider to the left, you get the most subtle vignette; toward the right, the vignette is more pronounced, and the amount of the photo that is unaffected gets smaller. Most photos look best with a subtle vignette, but sometimes you may want to use more prominent shading.
  • Softness adjusts the intensity of the gradient; how much the light drops off as it gets near the center. Again, try moving the slider to see how this affects your photos. Try putting the Strength all the way to the right (1.00), and then moving the Softness slider; the difference will be a lot more obvious.

You can adjust these three sliders until you find the ideal setting for your photo. In some cases, you’ll want a stronger, softer vignette, and in others you want only the slightest hint of a vignette. Used sparingly, this can be a very attractive effect. And if you decide you don’t like it, just uncheck the Vignette setting, and it goes away.

When you’re satisfied, click Done to save your changes.

As with all edits in Photos, this setting is non-destructive; you can always return to your original photo by clicking Revert to Original at the top of the window, above the Adjustments column. So feel free to try anything you want, with the knowledge that you can always undo your changes.

One more thing: don’t overuse the vignette effect. It tends to look contrived if you use it on all your photos. If you look at the photos that people share on Flickr, Instagram, and 500px, you’ll no doubt notice that vignette effects are thrown around as though they’re almost required, especially with black and white photos. As with all effects, use this one sparingly.


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1 thought on “How to Use the Vignette Effect in Apple Photos

  1. Hi, the vignette is always using a circular shape on my fotos, no matter how “oval” I crop the original image. Any hints on how to get the same vignette effect as in the older iPhoto software/app? thx

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