Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating uneven light through vignetting, part of Creating Distressed and Vintage Photo Effects with Photoshop.
- One characteristic of some older photographs is the presence of a vignette, where the image fades out as it nears the edges. The vignette may be rectangular, or it may show up as an oval shape. Vignettes were often intentionally applied when a photo was printed, and they're still a popular effect for contemporary portrait images. Vignettes can be applied in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW using the Post-Crop Vignetting sliders in the Effects Panel. And while this may be fine for many images, for the purposes of creating an aged or distressed photo effect, you have much more control over the exact placement and edge characteristics when a vignette is created in Photoshop.
So let's just a take a moment to deconstruct the layers that are already present in this color photograph. So I have a layer group labeled Black and White and Toning. Let me just quickly turn all these off, and turn them on in sequence. I have a black and white adjustment layer, a levels adjustment layer, a hue saturation layer to apply a color tone, and then finally an overall contrast tweak which just boosts the contrast a little bit. I want to take a quick moment to look at the levels adjustment layer and point out that what I have done here is brought in the Shadow slider a little bit just to make sure I have some nice blacks in the deepest shadows, but I've also kind of modulated that down a little bit with the Output Shadow slider.
And then the main significant thing here is that the Output White slider has been moved in. And what that does is it dulls down the highlights, so I don't have any pure white whites in the image. So you can see in the sunlight on the water here and also on the leaves of the trees, if I bring this down, those whites become a lot duller. And that becomes significant when we add a vignette where it fades out to paper white. So I just wanted to point out that that was at play there. All right, so what I'm gonna do is click on the Background layer to make this active, and I'm gonna get my Elliptical Marquee tool.
I'm gonna make sure that the feather is set to zero. And I'm going to start up here in the upper left corner of the image, somewhere just on the left side of this tree. And I'll just drag diagonally down across the image to create an oval vignette. As I am still dragging this with my mouse button down, I can hold the space bar and then temporarily interrupt the selection creation process to just kind of move it around and reposition it. So I have my mouse button down and the space bar down and that allows me to reposition this.
Move it up a little bit and then let go of the space bar and then continue dragging it out a little bit. So something like that. This is just for starters here. Next what I want to do is invert this selection so I'm gonna go to the Select menu and choose Inverse and now I have everything except for the center portion of the image selected. I'm gonna come to my Adjustment layer button in the bottom of the layers panel. Click on that and choose Solid Color. So this will come in with whatever your foreground color happens to be.
My foreground color was black so this is why I'm getting a black vignette. I'm gonna start off with a light colored vignette, so I'm gonna move the color picker selector all the way up here into the upper left corner there to choose white and I'll just click OK. So this is not coming in as totally white, and the reason for that is, remember I do have this levels adjustment layer where I am dulling down the whites. So it is important that that is at play because the paper of old vintage prints is rarely pure white.
Often times it's more a creamy, dull white. Sometimes it can be yellow. So you don't want it to be totally pure white. So that's why I have positioned my color fill layer underneath that levels adjustment layer, so I know that it's being affected by that. So next I'm gonna click on the Layer Mask that was created from my selection when I chose to create that color fill layer, and I'm going to double click the Properties panel here to open it up and then I have access to the mask properties. And then I can just choose to feather this. I'm gonna feather it quite a bit to where we get something like this.
I'm up at about 75 pixels in terms of the feather. And if I close that panel, you can see the effect that that is having. So we just get this nice, gentle vignette effect. So that's one way to apply a vignette effect like that. The nice thing about doing it as a solid color fill layer is that you can easily change your mind as to what the color of the vignette is. So, for instance, if I decided, well what would it look like if I had the image fading out to black? Well, it's easy to try that out. Just double click on the thumbnail for the solid color fill layer, and then set your color to black, click OK.
And then you can see what it looks like with a black vignette. So a lot of flexibility there. Now, the other thing you can do is make your vignette a little bit more irregular. So I made this as an oval elliptical selection. Let's set this back to white 'cause it's easier to see what I'm gonna do next. But you can edit this. So I'm gonna get my Brush tool and I'm gonna make sure I have a nice, big brush. I'll hold down the Control and Option keys on Mac, and drag from left-to-right to resize my brush.
That would be Alt right clicking on Windows to resize the brush. And if you want to change the hardness, you use that same keyboard shortcut and drag up and down to change the hardness of the brush. Very useful shortcut there. And I'm gonna come down to, for this image, maybe around 450 pixel brush. So now I can paint on the mask with white or black to reveal or show more of the image. In this case, I want to show more of the image so I'm gonna be painting with black.
And you can see here that I can kinda selectively show more of the image in certain places. There's really nothing down here except for the bright sun on the water, so I'm gonna leave that. And if I Option click on the layer mask thumbnail, that would be Alt clicking in Windows, you can see where I have modified the edges a little bit to where it's now not quite an exact oval vignette. I'm kind of making it a little bit more irregular. I'll Option or Alt click on the thumbnail of the mask to get back.
So that's a way you can make your mask edges a little bit more irregular and uneven, which is often the case in a vignette scene on a vintage image. So that's one way to create a vignette effect. There is a different way. It's not necessarily better, but it's just different. So to show you that, I'm going to click on the Lock icon for the Background layer to turn that into a regular layer. And what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna take the solid color fill layer that I've already created and drag it underneath the image there. And then I'm gonna take the layer mask that I've already created and just drag that up onto the image layer.
So just click that and drag it right up there. And it moves that layer mask right up there on top of the image, except it's backwards now. So I just need to invert that mask, so I make sure that the mask is active. I go to the Properties panel and I just choose Invert. And that will invert the mask. By the way, the shortcut for that, in case you don't want to come to the Properties panel, it's just Command I to invert a mask. It's here in the menu under Image Adjustments, Invert. Command I. So if I just choose Command I now, it will invert that mask.
So now I'm masking the image layer and I just have whatever color underneath. And, of course, as I've done before I can double click on that solid color fill layer and change the color to a different color if I need to. Images made in the early days of photography often did not have clear, distinct edges. Adding a vignette is one way to make an image look a little bit more antique. Some of the same layer and layer mask techniques that we've used to create a vignette effect can also be applied to add areas of irregular fading, or light leaks to an image.
After reviewing the kinds of things that make a photo look old—fading, chemical deterioration, physical damage, and so on—Sean shows how to re-create those effects in Photoshop. He also explores other facets of vintage photography, from lens distortion to light leaks, and shows how to simulate them. The course concludes with details on adding texture and border effects to your finished photos.
- Understanding what causes a distressed look
- Aging an image
- Creating a sepia-tone effect
- Adding blur
- Transforming light-leak effects
- Creating a faded-color effect
- Adding texture with reference images and blend modes