Gimp Tutorial: How to Add a Vignette to your Photo
It’s so easy to have a heavy hand when you (when I) first learn a particular photo editing technique in Gimp. (GIMP is a free open source image editing alternate to Photoshop. My husband and I love it) When you learn how to do something, you really want to do it, right?! Well, I learned pretty quickly that with vignetting, subtlety is usually best if you still want to like the picture in a few days, not to mention a few years. Here’s a tutorial (with plenty of examples) on how to add a subtle vignette (darkening around the edges) to a photo.
Step 1: Copy Background
I always make a background copy to work with, because I want to be able to get back to the original at any time. Click on the “Duplicate” button (highlighted) to make the copy.
Step 2: Create Vignette Layer
After making any changes you want to the image (saturation boost, contrast boost, etc.), make a copy of background copy #1. This will be your vignette layer. To name the layer (it helps me click the right layer when I’m goin quick), right-click on background copy #2, and select “Edit Layer Attributes.”
Being ridiculously creative, I like to title the vignette layer “Vignette.”
Step 3: Add Layer Mask
To make this subtle vignette, we’re going to add a layer mask to the Vignette layer. Here’s why: We want to darken the picture around the edges, but with the natural colors of the original photo. To do this, we are going to darken the vignette layer, and only let the borders show on top of the background picture. I know, it’s like magic, right? The layer mask is what allows us to let only the darker borders show. Think of the layer mask as a window that lets you see through to the photo below (We used a similar technique for adding texture to a photo). We’re looking at the original through the window, and the darker picture above shows around the edges. I’ll go into more detail with the pictures below.
Right-click on the Vignette layer and choose “Add Layer Mask.”
Select “White (full opacity)” and click “Add.”
Step 4: Add the Gradient
This gradient is what determines the size, shape, and opacity of our “window.” Choose the gradient tool and change the shape from “linear” to “radial,” and increase the offset. The offset determines how large your “window,” or circle will be before it starts to fade out and show the darker layer. We want it to be somewhere around the middle, because we don’t want a lot of the dark layer to show up. We want our window to be pretty big.
Make sure you select the white layer mask before using the gradient tool. The layer you are working on is outlined in white (which obviously doesn’t really show up when the actual layer is also white). You also want to click on the eye next to background copy #1 to make it temporarily invisible. We want to be able to see what we’re doing to the vignette layer, so we want the background invisible for a bit.
Now that you have selected the gradient tool and the layer mask, click near the center of the picture and drag toward one of the corners. The first X (in the middle) is where your gradient (window) will begin. The second X (near the corner) is where the gradient will end.
This is the result of the gradient I made. I don’t think it’s big enough, because you can still see Carter’s little tooshie sticking out on the right side. Keep in mind that what you still see of the picture is what will be darker in the final product. Where it’s transparent (or grey checkered), you’ll see through to the layer below (background copy #1). I don’t want that much of the picture to be dark, so I used the gradient tool again, and pulled it all the way to the corner of the picture.
Ahh, that’s better. Now only the edges show through. It’s not perfectly in the middle, but I don’t really care. Every year, I get over my perfectionism just a little bit more. I’m scared to think of how non-perfectionist I could be in 50 years if it keeps going at this rate. Anyhow, you can play around with the gradient tool until you get it right where you want it. You can also make the offset larger or smaller.
Step 5: Adjust Curves or Levels
First, we want the background layer to be visible again. Just click on the eye next to the layer to bring it back into view. Important!: Select the Vignette layer (not the layer mask). Notice that the Vignette layer is now outlined in white. That is the layer we want to work on. We will be using curves to darken it.
To get this curves box, go to the “Colors” tab along the top and select “Curves.” You can click anywhere on the curves line to bring it up or down. This darkens or lightens certain shades or tones or something (I don’t really know what you’re darkening or lightening, I just know the effect, alright?). I usually pull the line down toward the bottom left, to darken the darks. If you pull the line down near the top corner, it darkens the lights. Just play around with it until you get the desired effect.
You can also use the levels adjustor if you don’t want to use curves. It is also under the Colors tab up top. For this one, just grab old of those little triangles/arrows under the “input levels” box and slide them around to darken (or lighten if you really want to). Personally, I prefer using curves, but feel free to use levels if you like.
Before and After:
I think this effect brings your eye more directly to the subject in the photo. It also adds a little depth without going over the top.
Here’s an example of using the gradient tool somewhere other than the middle of the photo. Here are brand new sisters Jaclyn and Carrie and Nick and Carrie’s wedding. I wanted people’s eyes to go straight toward their faces, so that’s where I started the gradient before pulling it downward.
As you can see, the gradient doesn’t cover as much of the photo as my first example. But, it covers their faces completely, which is what I wanted.
Here’s the effect after darkening a bit. It’s very subtle, but it helps your eye focus on their faces. (well, at least I think it does. I’m no pro, of course) 🙂
Now, go forth and conquer the world of subtle vignetting!
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