Simple Photoshop Vignette Effect

A simple photoshop vignette effect using one adjustment layer. It can be as subtle or pronounced as is pleasing to you. Even if you are unfamiliar with layers it is easy to follow and a few simple steps will achieve a nice effect which can be darkened or lightened as you please.If you are using Photoshop Elements and your image is a 16 bit image you will need to convert the image to 8 bits / channel by selecting Image>Mode>8 Bits/Channel.Once the image is opened in Photoshop the basic steps are:

  • Select Elliptical Marqee Tool
  • Frame subject with an Ellipse or Circle
  • Invert the selection
  • Add a levels adjustment layer, darken or lighten to your liking
  • Apply Gaussian Blur filter – this demo uses 180px
  • Adjust layer opacity – this demo uses 70%

The menus shown here are CS5 menus. Soooo …

open your image in photoshop. Press M to select the elliptical marquee tool. If the rectangular tool is active, pressing shift-M will toggle the tool between ellipse and rectangle. Alternatively you can select the marquee tool directly from the left vertical tools menu. Right clicking on the menu item will open a selection menu where you can choose your desired tool. Directly above the vertical tools menu your selection – in this case ellipse – is now visible. Immediately to the right of this are 4 other selections between the ellipse and the Feather size box. From left to right they are single selection, add to current selection, remove from current selection and intersect with current selection so ensure the left-most selection is selected is the active selection.

Click to the upper left of the subject and drag the ellipse to the lower right until the subject is framed nicely. I may take a few goes to get it just right, simply click and drag again – the previous ellipse will disappear.

The current selection is everything inside the ellipse. We want to select everything outside the ellipse, so invert the selection by Select>Inverse or Shift+Control+I for windows users, Shift+Command+I for Apple.

Your image should have a marching ants ellipse around the subject, and a second marching ants line around the periphery of your image. The current selection is now everything outside the ellipse.

Add a levels adjustment layer from the top menu by Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels, or by clicking on the black / white round button at the bottom of the layers pallete and selecting Levels from the popup menu.

A layer called Levels 1 is now sitting above your image in the layers pallete. In keeping with good practice, and especially important when working with many layers, rename this layer by double clicking on Levels 1 and typing your new name, I will use Vignette.

Above the layers pallete is the adjustments pallete which now has the levels histogram (black graph) and adjustment sliders. Click on the middle slider moving to the right to darken the selection, in this instance I will move the slider to 0.60. Moving the slider to the left will lighten the selection. Your image will now show a defined elliptical shadow around your subject as in this image.









To make this effect softer and much more subtle, we are going to blur the selection and reduce the opacity slider.







Select Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, either adjust the slider or type the pixel value directly into the Radius box, in this demo I am using a 180 pixel blur, then OK.










I will soften the effect a bit more by decreasing the opacity of the levels layer. In the layers pallet, above the Vignette layer is an opacity box, click on the blue down arrow to expose the opacity slider and move the slider to the left, in this demo I used 70% opacity.





Moving the levels slider all the way to the left lightens the vignette. Play around with the ellipse size and position, levels, blur amount and opacity until you are pleased with the result.

Don’t be shy … experiment and enjoy !! See you ’round the ridges!


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