Modern lenses are pretty good at creating even illumination across the frame, and if there is some corner shading (vignetting) you can use software to eliminate it.
However, sometimes vignetting is good! Especially if you can control it creatively to improve your picture’s composition and contrast.
This image below has all the ingredients for a great picture – a terrific subject in these wild Dartmoor ponies, a warm glow from a late afternoon sun and really nice backlighting. And yet it’s still just a little flat.
What it needs is a vignette effect to darken the corners and focus attention on the horses to improve the composition. A vignette will also increase the overall contrast in the scene and make the lighting appear much more dramatic.
A lot of programs can create vignette effects, but mostly they’re centred on the image with little control over the shape or the position – though in some instances you can move the centre point of the effect.
But for this shot we’re using the Radial Filter in Lightroom. This goes a step further by offering much more control over the position and the shape of the vignette. Here’s how it works:
01: The edges of the picture have been made much darker using the controls in the tools panel on the right. This makes the low, slanting light in the central part of the picture look much more striking.
02: Lightroom’s Radial Filter has an added advantage over regular vignette tools. You can drag out a circular or elliptical shape anywhere on the image and then twist it to any angle. Here, it’s been angled to match the direction of the sunlight.
03: These are the adjustments applied to the outside edges of the picture – the vignette. With Lightroom’s regular Vignette tool (in the Effects panel) you can only control the Amount (brightness) of the vignette, and the vignette tools in most other programs are similar. That’s often enough to get a good result on its own, but here, being able to make a range of other adjustments beyond simply reducing the Exposure, including Saturation, has improved it still further.
So here’s the finished image. The lighting and the overall effect is much more dramatic. If you use vignette effects carefully, they don’t have to look like the rather obvious corner shading effect of an inexpensive lens, and they can in fact add depth and interest to your compositions.