Vignette is very common in photography, although to professional photographers, it’s often undesirable. What is a vignette? How can you avoid it? When should you keep one?

This guide will define what a vignette is and what causes it. Then we’ll describe the many ways to get rid of it. We’ll also go over when and why you might want to keep a vignette or even create one in post-processing.

Example of a photo with vignette.
Photo by Leo Wieling on Unsplash

What is vignette

Technically speaking, a vignette is the darkening on the corners and around the edges compared to the center of an image. As we mentioned above, vignetting is often unwanted. It can be a sign that the image was captured or edited unprofessionally. On the other hand, vignettes are gaining in popularity thanks to Instagram and other smartphone photo editing apps. That said, you should be aware of what causes a vignette so that you can be in full control of when it happens. That way you can avoid it if you don’t want one. 

Types of vignette

Vignettes occur in a few different ways. Some types of vignetting are caused by the nature of the design of the lens you’re using; others can happen as a result of filters and lens hoods; while others can be added in post-processing. Let’s explore these in more detail.

  1. Optical vignetting: Optical vignettes naturally occur in all lenses. It’s a result of the way lenses are designed. The effect is much stronger on prime lenses with very wide apertures. Cheaper lenses are more prone to vignetting than their more expensive counterparts and telephoto lenses are far less prone to it than wide-angle lenses.
  2. Mechanical/Accessory vignetting: This is another common type of vignetting that happens as a result of the gear you use. In this case, something obstructs the light entering your lens, causing a vignette. Examples include lens hoods, filters, or extension tubes. The vignetting is worse at wider apertures.
  3. Pixel vignetting: This occurs because digital camera sensors are flat, but the light enters lenses at different angles. Pixels on the corners of the sensor receive light rays at a slight angle compared to the pixels in the center of the sensor, which receive light at 90 degrees. The result is a vignette.
  4. Intentional vignetting: With all the talk about undesirable vignettes, it may come as a surprise that sometimes you might want to add it to an image. But, sometimes vignettes are useful for directing a viewer’s eye to the center of an image and drawing them away from the corners. Intentional vignettes are added to an image in post-processing. 
Sometimes vignettes are used intentionally.
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

How to prevent vignette

There are a number of things you can do to prevent vignetting in your images:

  • Stop down your aperture. Remember, vignetting is worse at wider apertures;
  • Don’t stack filters;
  • Use accessories that were made by your lens manufacturer. They are most likely to perfectly fit your lens and least likely to create a vignette.
  • Check for lens obstructions. For example, did your lens hood get dislodged?
  • Only use a lens hood that was made for your lens. Yes, they are specifically made for each lens and they are often a culprit for vignetting.
  • Use in-camera vignette control. Many modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras come equipped with this option. Keep in mind, however, that it will only affect JPG images and your RAW files will still have a vignette that you’ll have to correct yourself.

How to correct it in post-processing

Fortunately, optical vignetting is easy to remove in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. As long as the lens you used is supported by the program, it’s as simple as a single mouse click in the Lens Corrections module.

In Photoshop, there’s a Lens Correction option under the Filter menu. This filter takes some practice and its effectiveness will depend on the extent of the vignetting you need to get rid of.

Another way to correct vignette is to simply crop it out. Sometimes, however, that’s not always possible. It depends on the composition of your image and whether you can afford to lose any of the edges.

Example of vignette.
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

When to use a vignette

Whether you like to occasionally use a vignette or you avoid them at all costs is a personal choice. Many photographers will add them in post to create depth, draw the viewer’s attention to the center of the image, or darken unnecessary parts of the photo. When done properly, a vignette can be an effective tool for composition

However, intentional vignettes should not be heavy-handed. Less is definitely more in most cases. And, it’s rarely, if ever, recommended that they are ever any color other than black.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re a fan of them or not, vignettes are a very common presence in photography. Now that you know what causes them, you can easily avoid them before you shoot or get rid of them after. What’s more, you can even create them to enhance your images.