Free Your Subject: Reverse Vignetting In Your Photos

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Vignetting – the darkening of the corners of a photograph – is often used by photographers to create tension or to narrow our focus onto a photo’s subject.  Like many post-processing trends in photography, it comes from a real situation.  The cause – without the use of a photo editor – is typically the result of the corners of the film/sensor getting too close to the outer edge of the image circle.  In fact, you may have seen it happen if you stack too many filters on your lens.  Vignetting certainly has its purposes, but there are a number of times where you’ll want to correct the vignette (and your software will help you do just that).  But what if we want to use that very tool to make the corners brighter?  This is something I like to call a Reverse Vignette.

To the best of my knowledge, I am not aware of a natural occurring of a reverse vignette in-the-camera.  But most photo editors have a way for you to do it.  Photoshop, for example, has a vignette filter or a toggle if you’re working with Adobe Camera RAW.  Instead of sliding towards the dark side, you can slide to the bright side.  Essentially, you are over-correcting the vignette – perhaps a vignette doesn’t even exist.

Whereas a typical vignette would create tension by narrowing the field of view – creating a tunnel effect if you will – A reverse vignette opens up the edges of the photo.  The result can be be discomforting in a different way.  To me, it makes me feel a little agoraphobic (the fear of wide open spaces).  The subject looks lonely and lost.  Depending on your subject and your intent, this might be the look you’re going for.  Take, for example, the two photos contained within this article (both generated from the same frame).  The photo low and to the left exhibits more of a traditional vignette.  This may appeal to some, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  But it wasn’t the look I was going for.  Instead, I opted to use a reverse vignette as is exhibited in the larger photo at the top – which is my final product.  I feel the reverse vignette helps to emphasize the story of this poor old tractor, left alone with only it’s thoughts and a pile of dirt.  The effect works especially well with black & white photography.

The reverse vignetting technique isn’t for everyone, and it certainly won’t bode well for every photo.  But you may want to consider using the technique for your next photo shoot.  It could just give you the emotional edge that you’re looking for.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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