Traditionally, photographers and gear makers have done their best to avoid vignetting in their imaging. While there are exceptions, the general tendency has always been to approach what we experience with natural vision as the goal. While that's been done with varying levels of success, there is one thing that you really need to remember.
In the right circumstances, vignettes can look fricken awesome.
The intention of this article isn't to be a prescriptive tome on what you should and shouldn't do with your own photographs. It's simply an explanatory piece on the background of vignettes that you can choose to incorporate into your own photography in whatever way suits your own style.
What Exactly Is a Vignette?
There are several types of vignette, but they all have a similar effect on an image whereby the light falls off towards the edges. Like such:
A vignette is basically caused by less light hitting the periphery of the lens or film. This has several possible causes:
- Mechanical Vignette – When the path of off-axis light to the sensor/film is partially blocked by gear which might include thick or stacked filters (for example)
- Optical Vignette – Caused by a multiple element lens where the front elements shade part of the rear elements.
- Natural Vignette – Basically, when the light doesn't strike the sensor/film at a perpendicular angle, it is prone to falloff.
- Pixel Vignette – On digital sensors, lighting hitting the sensor at a perpendicular angle produces a stronger signal than light hitting it at an oblique angle (which happens towards the edges).
- Vignette Filter – If you have been to Instagram you probably know that people also introduce vignettes in post-production with a filter.
You can read more detailed definitions of the types of vignetting here.
A Vignette is (Traditionally) Considered Undesirable by Pros
Most professionals traditionally have a tendency to try to avoid vignettes. Often they do this through gear selection or post-production corrections.
Of course, this is still subject to personal tastes and the fashion of the day, but it is not unusual to post a shot with a vignette in a photography forum and get told by a more experienced photographer to lose the vignette.
Engineers Usually Work Against Vignettes When Designing Lenses
As a vignette was generally considered an optical imperfection, generally optical engineers worked to minimize vignetting caused by equipment.
If you purchase a very old lens (generally speaking), you will often get a vignetting effect from it as the optical technology was not as good as you get today. Some photographers like this and it is very much in vogue with a certain portion of the Instagram-inspired crowd.
Incorporate Vignettes as You See Fit
Horses for courses. If you are going to be entering a slew of photography competitions judged by established professional photographers, you are probably going to want to go light on the vignettes or try to avoid them altogether.
If you are looking for a bunch of likes on Instagram, then you will probably want to introduce some vignetting to your photographs as it tends to be popular with crowds at the moment.
Most situations will probably be somewhere between those two extremes and will depend heavily on your own taste as well as your intended audience.
Whichever way you turn, just do it intentionally and with the knowledge that enables you to make an informed decision as an artist.
And don't forget to not get too caught up in the silly arguments surrounding things like vignettes in photography. In the end, it's your art and your decision.
Some Inspiring Shots With Vignettes
I see both sides of the coin on the issue of vignettes, but by the same token, I think these photographs are damn cool.
More Resources on Vignetting
- How a Vignette Can Make Your Photos Pop (And How to Do it in Photoshop)
- Creating a Vignette Effect in Photoshop
- When is Adding Vignetting Appropriate in Post-Processing
- How to Correct Distortion and Lens Vignette in Lightroom