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The Hidden Power of Adjustment Layers in Adobe® Photoshop®: Gradient Fill Vignette

Article Description

Learn this amazingly fast and flexible vignette technique.

Vignettes are a popular way to enhance your photos and illustrations. They help draw the viewer’s eye toward the subject and add some drama by darkening (or lightening) the corners of the canvas.

You can apply a vignette to your photos using many methods, including adding it as an effect in Camera Raw. Most methods have limitations that keep them from being ideal. For example, Camera Raw doesn’t let you reposition the effect or change its blending behavior. And when trying to drag a layer you’ve filled with the Gradient tool, you’ll see that the layer fill does not go beyond the canvas, which will leave you with odd corners on your vignette if you try to position it.

Rocky Berlier, this book’s technical editor, shares this amazingly fast and flexible vignette technique.

  1. Press D to reset your foreground and background colors to default black and white. Then add a Gradient fill layer to the top of your image stack by choosing Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient.
  2. Accept the default settings in the first dialog box. In the next dialog box, from the Gradient drop-down menu, choose Foreground to Transparent gradient. This gives you Black as the starting color.
  3. Set the Style drop-down menu to Radial, and select the Reverse option. You will be able to see your vignette immediately.
  4. Refine the vignette by adjusting the Scale and Angle settings as you like. I used about 32 degrees, and 150% for the scale.
  5. Before you click OK, and while the dialog box is still open, drag on the canvas to reposition the gradient over the main focal point of the image. When you drag on the canvas, the pointer automatically changes to the Move tool. The gradient in the example image is centered on the dragonfly’s head.
  6. Finish off by setting the Gradient Fill layer’s Fill setting between 50% and 80% and naming the layer Vignette.

This technique is so useful that Rocky created a Photoshop action for it that you can download from my webpage (http://scoxel.com/hpoal). Because this is a nondestructive technique, you can later double-click the Vignette layer’s icon to readjust the focal point any time you like.

Here’s a bonus tip:

You can also use this technique as a Neutral Density filter that is great for sunsets and landscape photos with a wide dynamic range between the horizon and sky. Instead of choosing Radial from the Style drop-down box, choose Linear. If the effect is not quite right, change the Gradient Fill layer’s blend mode to Overlay, and adjust the opacity.