Vignetting is when the edges of a photograph are darkened and gradually recede into the centre. It is usually most obvious in the corners and can reduce the overall brightness and saturation of a photograph. It’s a stylistic feature that some photographers love and others hate - it’s very polarising.
Vignetting appears in different forms in photographs, and can be either an accidental feature, or added in intentionally during post-production.
There are 4 types of vignetting: mechanical, optical, natural and deliberate:
1) Mechanical vignetting can be caused by stacking multiple lenses, lens filters, longer than necessary lens hoods, or lens extensions. Stepping the aperture down a few stops (or lowering the f-number in value) can help to override this.
2) Optical vignetting is caused by the physical dimensions of certain types of lenses, which tend to be a little thicker around the edges. The more elements, or pieces of glass, within a lens, the less light can enter, which decreases the amount of light hitting the camera sensor. This type of vignetting is lens distortion, but usually lenses with very wide apertures such f2.8 or f1.4 are less likely to create optical vignetting.
3) Natural vignetting occurs, as the name suggests, naturally in an image, and occurs at wider focal lengths. Many modern cameras are designed to counteract it, but older models such as Holgas are not able to do this as efficiently.
4) Deliberate vignetting is the most more common type of vignetting found in modern photography, with photographers choosing to add vignettes using editing software, after the photo is taken. Some photographers like to use particular actions or presets, so that the vignetting that is applied is consistent across a whole set of photos. Vignettes can often be seen in lots of smartphone photography app filters, some more subtle than others.
When is the right time to remove or embrace vignetting?
This depends on the image you are trying to achieve. By adding a vignette, a viewer’s eye will be drawn to the centre of the frame and the subject/s, which can be ideal for giving portraits a sense of drama, and for enhancing the tones in a black and white photography. Sometimes the vignetting is white instead of black but it has the same effect. Also, because older style photographs had a lot of natural vignetting, some people choose to use deliberate vignettes to give their photos a vintage look.
Image taken by Reissuotokset
However, it can be easy to overuse vignetting effects and there are many situations in which you should be correcting vignetting in your images while editing, rather than playing it up. Unnecessary vignetting effect can have the effect of distracting from the main subject in a way that looks really artificial, such as in the photo below.
Image taken by Peter Bamert
Another example is images with a solid colour background, because when these images are viewed on screens, a banding effect is produced, where the colour is seen as rings around the outside of the image.
If mechanical vignetting is unavoidable in the shooting situation, you can fix it in post-production by selecting the lens corrections tab in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom (the same feature used to fix lens distortions).
There are also a few other things you can do to prevent it occurring in camera:
Try not to stack too many lens filters and other accessories.
Use wider apertures.
Use lenses with magnified focal lengths such as telephoto and macro lenses.