Photo by Ivan Stern on Unsplash
Vignetting is a term that describes when the corners of a picture are dark. That’s the simplest answer to the question, what is a vignette? A vignette can appear as a blur or a dark shadow anywhere along the borders of a photograph. Most of the time it’s a nuisance, but sometimes vignetting can be done to add artistic flair to a picture.
Vignetting is immediately noticeable because the edges, corners, or all the borders of a picture will be visibly darker than the rest. This phenomenon is normally caused by poor optics. However, it can also be done on purpose during photo editing as a way to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the picture.
What Causes Vignetting?
Vignetting can be caused by a few different things, mainly from the camera lens itself. However, a vignette can appear worse when you use other photography tools like filters and lens hoods. This doesn’t necessarily mean your equipment is bad. A lot of the time, vignetting occurs naturally even in the best-quality lenses.
Here’s how optical vignetting happens with the lens. The light which enters the lens becomes blocked by the barrel of the lens itself, causing the edges of the picture to be dark. This happens mostly when you use wide apertures, primarily with prime lenses. The light going through your lens to your camera sensor is coming from all angles. The sharpest angles of light hit the lens barrel, creating shadow at the extremities and corners of the frame.
The reason this happens most when using large apertures is that the camera shutter is open so wide that the edges become blocked by the lens barrel. When you use a smaller aperture, the lens shutter isn’t open quite as much and so all the light enters the lens exactly as it’s supposed to. This means there is far less chance of vignetting with small apertures.
What you want to remember is that the larger the aperture, the more chance of vignetting. This is especially true with prime lenses because they are known for having wide apertures and a fixed focal length. If you’re experiencing this issue, simply try to lower the aperture a bit until the vignetting is gone.
There is one more cause of optical vignetting. The second reason you experience this issue is because the light that travels through the lens takes longer to reach the corners and edges than the center. This issue is notorious with wide-angle lenses. By the time the light rays reach the edges of the camera sensor, they are less bright than the rays that hit the camera sensor directly. All of this happens in a split second, but the delay is enough to cause dark vignetting at the edges of your image.
What is Pixel Vignetting?
Pixel vignetting is something you’re most likely to encounter when using a digital camera. This type of vignetting has nothing to do with the lens but rather the digital image sensor inside these types of cameras. Because these digital sensors are built to be flat, all the pixels are facing in the same direction. The pixels at the center of the sensor receive the most light. Pixels in the corners and along the edges receive less light. This is because the light enters the lens at an angle and is unable to reach the edges of the sensor with the same brightness that they reach the center.
If you notice vignetting with your digital camera, it’s simply because of the camera sensor. There’s not much you can do about this except fixing the issue in post-production.
Vignetting from Filters & Lens Hoods
Now that we know how optical vignetting happens, you can see why things like filters and lens hoods make it significantly worse. Because of the extreme angles at which light enters your camera lens, when you have an obstruction blocking the lens, even more, the vignetting can be worse.
The good news is that most filters and hoods are designed to be way larger than the camera lens to prevent vignetting. This is also a design feature meant to prevent things like ghosting, flares, and internal reflections. Things like lens hoods prevent extremely bright sources of light from entering the lens at weird angles, which should theoretically help stop vignetting as well.
So, if filters and hoods are designed to prevent vignetting, how is it possible that accessories can exacerbate this problem? It’s usually only a problem if you’re using third-party accessories. Manufacturers design their lenses to accommodate their own filters and hoods. If you’re using a Nikon camera with a Nikon lens and a lens hood from a different brand, you could get vignetting because the hood wasn’t technically designed for that specific lens.
That being said, even lenses with the proper accessories can experience vignetting at extremely wide apertures. With this issue, it always comes back to the aperture. When you’re shooting with a huge aperture, your shutter is just so wide open that it’s hard to stop the corners of the image from darkening. Add a lens hood to the situation and the problem just gets that much worse.
How Do I Fix Vignetting?
Luckily, vignetting is extremely easy to fix. All you need is a reliable photo editing program like Lightroom or Photoshop. These are the two best programs for fixing vignetting because they have a special lens correction support that works with most popular lenses. Simply select the lens you were using to take the picture, hit the correction button, and the vignetting will be completely gone. It literally just takes a single click and you don’t need to mess around with any settings or confusing editing tools.
If you don’t have either of these programs, you can still fix vignetting by adding white shadow to the corners. Most photo editing programs have a vignetting slider that you can move to balance the white and dark in the image. Simply slide the bar to add brightness to the darkened corners without mangling the rest of the picture.
When Should I Add Vignetting to a Picture?
Like we said in the beginning, vignetting is not always a problem. Sometimes, you may want to create an artificial vignette to add some style to your photographs. This is usually something you do to draw attention away from the borders of the picture to the main subject in the center. By darkening the edges of the picture artificially, you make the middle of the picture appear brighter and more immediately interesting to the eye.
There are a few ways to add a nice vignette to a photo. You can either take a picture with a vignette naturally by using a large aperture and lots of light, or you can do it during post-processing. In just about any photo editing application, you can increase the vignette in a photograph to darken the edges to your satisfaction.
Another bonus to having even just a slight vignette in a photograph is that it adds a bit of depth. This is really only recommended though when taking pictures of a specific subject. Nobody wants dark frames around a picture of a landscape or a building, as this just looks grim.
But you should also keep in mind that when adding a vignette to a photograph, go easy on just how dark you make the borders. You want the vignetting to look as natural as possible without the photo looking edited in any way. If it’s too dark, people will see something strange going on. Instead of the picture looking artistic and deep, it will just come off as confusing.
Vignetting is a problem that just about no photographer can avoid. Even if you don’t experience it most of the time, it will eventually come up. The first time you use an extra-wide lens, shoot using a very large aperture or stick a lens hood onto your lens, you may suffer from pictures with vignetting.
The good news is that it’s super obvious what causes a vignette. When the edges and corners of your picture are darker than they should be, you can rest assured this is a problem with light not reaching the peripherals of the camera sensor. Since you know what’s causing the problem, it’s quite easy to fix.
The first thing should be to lower the aperture. If your pictures are crowded with shadows, simply use a lower aperture. Once your lens shutter is narrower, it will allow more light to reach the peripherals of the camera sensor, reducing any potential darkening effects.
If the vignetting can’t be avoided, don’t worry about it. Almost every photo editing software in the world can fix the issue with a few clicks. It’s really not the end of the world. You can even add vignetting to a perfectly ordinary picture to create a more appealing depth of field, blurring the edges of the picture to draw your viewer’s eye to the subject in the center.
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