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In the interest of full disclosure, I learned this method reading an issue of Photoshop User magazine in an article about doing better landscapes. It's extremely simple, and while I am using Photoshop to demonstrate this the technique is applicable to Elements as well, though with some exceptions that I'll note in the process below.

Vignettes are a great way to focus attention on the subject of your photo. But there are times when that subject isn't located in an area that makes it convenient for the regular vignette tool to accent. I also tend to find that the graduated changes in the typical vignette often go too far when the subject of the photo is small compared to the total size of the photo. In other words, by the time I accent the subject the edges are too dark. With this technique, using layers, adding strategic vignettes can make your photo subjects pop, and most people won't even know that you did it.

I'm going to start with a photo that could probably be done with the typical vignetting tool given that it's location is in the center of the frame, and it takes up most of the frame.

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Using the selection tool in the Oval shape, I'm going to make a selection around my subject to choose the area of the photo I want vignetted. Note, I want to select a slightly larger area due to one of the next steps.

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Now that I have my selection, I Right-Click in the center and select the Feather option. I typically use a number between 300 & 500 for this, depending on how large the image is, and how much of a gradient I want. Note, Photoshop Elements limits Feather amount to 250.

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Now that I've applied feathering, I now need to invert my selection so I can choose the area to which I want to apply the vignette. Right-click on the selection and choose Select Inverse.

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Now that I have my selection, I hit Command-J (Control-J on a PC) to create a new layer from the selection (you can also Right-Click and choose Layer Via Copy). Nothing will appear different in the image since I'm simply stacking a portion of the image on top of itself. But when I go to my layer blending method (Normal by default) and choose Multiply it will darken the area comprised by my selection, with the feathering effect evident by the gradient effect created. Note: If you want to lighten instead of darken, choose Screen from the blending menu instead.

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Most times, this darkening effect will be far too severe for the photo. So, I go to my layer Opacity slider and I decrease the layer opacity until the desired effect is achieved.

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And now I can choose to just save the file as is, allowing me to play with the adjustment later, or merge the two layers before saving. And I'm done!!

What I love about this is the flexibility it gives me with vignetting. If I have multiple subjects I can combine multiple selections before applying the feathering. And while I haven't fully explored it, I suspect that many of the other layer blending methods could provide your with a bevy of interesting effects as you apply them at varying levels of opacity. And while the original article spoke of using it in landscapes, I've applied it to all sorts of subjects.

Thanks again to the folks at Photoshop User for demoing this.


Since the effect isn't immediately visible in the example images, here is a trio of images showing the blend opacity at 0%, 100% and then at my chosen effect level - I've skipped the feathering step to make the changes easier to see. Again, it's a subtle change meant to highlight the subject, not necessarily produce a typical vignette. Hope this is easier to see. With the feathering it's almost unnoticeable.

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Nikon Vs Cannon Digital Cameras-screen-shot-2013-05-31-11.14.15-am.jpg

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Updated 05-31-2013 at 04:18 PM by BackdoorArts

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  1. Don Kuykendall's Avatar
    AM I missing something? The last photo looks just like the first one.
    I have been using CS5 for a while but ordered CS6 yesterday. It should be here next week. Where can we find Photoshop User?
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  2. BackdoorArts's Avatar
    Yeah - I should have used an example where the slider was at 100 percent. If you look carefully you can see that the wood of the deck is darkened around the bird. Pop up the next to last photo and use the right arrow key to go to the next, then left to go back. Go back and forth and you can see the subtle change. Like I said, it's a subtle effect that's meant to punch your photo's subject.
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  3. STM's Avatar
    There is actually a much easier way to do it. Go to "Filter", then "Lens Correction", then "Custom" and then to Vignette. You can add the amount of light or darkness you want to vignette, as well as the how much outward from the center you want it to be. I am not sure if this filter is included in PS Elements, but it is what i use in CS5.
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    Updated 06-03-2013 at 06:52 AM by STM
  4. BackdoorArts's Avatar
    True vignettes, yes. But you cannot control the placement. With this, you can't really get as dark as with the normal vignetting tool, but that's the point - you don't want to. What this technique does is simply accentuate the subject (or several) in the photo using a subtle, almost unnoticeable vignette.
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