… for Visual Effects

Tip #394: Why Use Vignettes

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Vignettes conjure emotions of the “old times,” romance, and warmth.

A vignette applied to a wedding photo.

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A vignette, in film, darkens the edges of the frame to focus the attention of the eye on the brighter portion of the image at the center.

In the old days, photographs created these automatically because the lens was not particularly good at passing the same amount of light across the entire exposure. The center was always brighter than the edges.

Since those early days, lenses have improved tremendously, which is why we associate vignettes with older images, romance, or something historical.

This screen shot illustrates a vignette – see the darkening from the center out to the edges of the image? It also illustrates a typical use – to subtly highlight the subject at the center, while lending a feeling of warmth and romance to the image.

To be most effective, a vignette should be subtle; it’s a darkening of the edges, not a spotlight on the center.


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2 Comments
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    Also note that shutters played a roll in determining a hot spot. The iris shutter opens from the center and then closes from the outside to the inside leaving the center exposed longer to light than the edges. This iris shutter was common among many still cameras. The focal plain shutter sends a wipe of light across the frame resulting in an even distribution of light across the frame. Film Movie cameras use a rotating shutter. Early movie work often deliberately used vignetting as a means of focusing attention to a specific object or area on the screen sometimes effectively masking the screen to a different aspect ratio to match the action on the screen.

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