How to Create a Vignette Effect
Vignettes help you create compelling compositions by directing attention to particular elements in photos. Photoshop offers several ways of creating vignettes easily, including those that rely on clipping masks. Exploring different vignette styles is equally easy in Photoshop. For example, the Custom Shape tool lets you easily make vignettes from predefined shapes. The Image menu's Adjustment commands offer other ways to vary vignettes. For example, you can make vignettes composed of colour or contrast gradations, instead of the usual opacity gradations.
In the first portion of this tutorial, you'll produce a standard vignette like this one.
If you want to work with the specific images used in this tutorial, see the image credits at the end of the tutorial.
Make a Basic Vignette
Load into Photoshop a photo you want to make a vignette for, then click Layer>Duplicate Layer to make a new layer containing the photo. Click the Background layer in the Layers panel to select the Background.
Click the top colour swatch at the bottom of the Tools palette to open the Colour Picker, then click the colour you want for the vignette's borders. Black and white are common choices. Close the Colour Picker, then click Edit>Fill to fill the background with the colour you chose.
Opening the Colour Picker
Click Layer>New>Layer to make a layer that will hold the vignette's mask. Click the dashed ellipse on the Tools palette to run Elliptical Marquee, then click the mouse in the upper left portion of the image region you want to make the vignette for. Drag down and right, then release the mouse when the ellipse surrounds the region you chose.
Selecting the subject
Click Edit>Fill to fill the ellipse with color, then click Select>Deselect to release the selection. The vignette's basic shape is in place, but its edges must be blurred. Click Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur to display the controls for the Gaussian Blur filter. Gaussian Blur adds imagery that obscures sharp colour changes in your photos, particularly those that mark object boundaries. The result is reduced contrast at those boundaries, which appears as blur. Drag the Radius slider until the preview window in the Gaussian Blur dialog box shows that the mask's edge has blurred slightly, then close the dialog.
Blurring the mask
Click the topmost layer in the Layers panel, which holds the duplicate of your original photo. Click Layer>Create Clipping Mask to apply the mask you just made to the duplicate layer. The canvas displays the vignette effect around the elliptical image region you selected.
The final image
Varying the Vignette
You're not confined to using an ellipse shape for a vignette. Sometimes it's appropriate to use others shapes, like those that emphasize an aspect of your photo.
Save and close the completed image from the first half of this tutorial, then load a photo you'd like to make a shape-based vignette for. Press "U" to run the Shape tool, then click the symbol on the Options toolbar that looks like a starfish to run the tool for drawing symbols. Click a symbol you want from the Shapes gallery, such as the heart symbol used in this example.
Selecting the symbol for the vignette
Click the button on the Options toolbar that shows a square surrounding a pen nib. This selects the Paths option, which allows you to see the subject you'll outline with the symbol. Drag on the canvas such that the symbol you selected outlines the subject.
Click Layer>New>Layer to create a new layer to hold the symbol mask, then press "P" to run the Pen tool. Right-click the symbol you positioned around the subject, then click Fill Path to fill in the symbol with the current color. This color won't appear in the final image.
The filled symbol
Use the Gaussian Blur filter to blur the symbol in the same way you blurred the ellipse in the first project, then duplicate the Background layer. Drag the duplicate's item in the Layers panel to the top of the layer stack.
Layers panel prior to applying Clipping Mask
Click Layer>Clipping Mask to mask the top layer with the symbol layer. Click the background layer in the Layers panel and select a color from the Colour Picker. Click Edit>Fill to fill the background with the color, which completes the vignette.
Completed vignette with symbol shape
Vignette with Saturation Gradation
So far, our vignettes have relied on opacity gradations. Let's create a vignette that uses color saturation gradations instead.
Load a photo you want to make the vignette for, then click the Tool palette icon shaped like a nib pen with a wavy line. This runs the Freeform Pen tool. Drag the mouse around the image portion you want to remain in colour.
Subject outlined with Freeform Pen
Right click the outline, then click Make Selection. Click Select>Invert to select everything but the part you want to remain in colour. This revised selection will form the mask for the vignette.
Click the Background in the Layers panel to select the background, then click Edit>Copy to copy the selected portion of the background to the clipboard. Click Edit>Paste Special>Paste in Place to make a new layer that holds the mask for the vignette.
Layers panel showing mask layer and original photo
Press "Control-D" or "Command-D" to dismiss the selection, then apply Gaussian Blur to the new layer, as you did in the previous project.
The blurred mask layer
Duplicate the Background layer, then move the duplicate to the top of the Layers panel. Click the top layer to select it, then click Image>Adjustments>Black & White to remove color from the top layer.
The original photo with color removed
Click Layer>Create Clipping Mask to see the final vignette, which shows color within the image portion you outlined. The colour fades to black and white at the photo's edges.
Final image: vignette with colour saturation gradations
Sailor Kiss, courtesy Wiki Commons user BotMultichillT
Raspberries, courtesy "fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au" under license GFDL, v1.2
Click here to see other tutorials by Darrin including:
How to Replace a Photo's Background with Photoshop's Refine Mask Tool