Adding a Vignette (or Blurry Dark Edges) to a Photo in Gimp

December 17, 2009

Dark Blurry Edges

The Boots Photo entry brought up a good question from haikalaziz who wanted to know:

hey ive noticed some of your pictures have the dark blurry border around the picture(photowalk 47 fallen on the trail). im just wondering how do i just get that without affecting the picture like this boots picture.

So I thought I’d take some time today to show you how I make that dark blurry border – also known as a vignette – in today’s entry.

Of course, there are a few different ways to do this, depending on the exact effect you want at the end. Since haikalaziz asked specifically about the dark blurry edges of the Boots photo, I’ll start there first, but first let me show you the photo I’m going to use for all of the tutorials:

The Photo

Pronounced dark edges of the photo

The first thing you want to do for this is to select the inner portion of the image – the part that you DON’T want to be darkened. The key here is to make sure that you have the “Feather edges” option selected and, if you’d like, the “Rounded corners” option as well:

Select Options

As you adjust the rounded corners radius value, you’ll be able to see in your selection what that looks like, but the Feather edges you can’t see until we use the fill tool later on, so you might have to do some guessing and checking – the value is in pixels, though, so how big you want to make it will depend on the size of your image. I was happy with values of right around 35 for each of mine (I started with an image that was 1024 pixels wide).

I just eyeball it to get all the edges about same size. Partly because I’m lazy, but mostly because I haven’t found a better way to do it – if I select the whole photo and then do Select –> Shrink to shrink the selection, I seem to lose the rounded corners and feathered edges in my selection. *shrug*. Anyway, my selection looks something like this now:

My Selection

Now, create a new layer (either click the white piece of paper icon at the bottom of the Layer tray, or go to Layer –> New Layer, or hit Ctrl+Shift+N). Be sure to pick a Layer Fill Type of Transparency. Now do Select –> Invert. You now have the outer edge of the image selected instead of the center of the photo. Now, select the Fill tool (the one that looks like a bucket), and fill in your selection with black. Because you have a feathered edge to your selection, it will fade towards your selected area instead of being solid – like so:

After using the fill tool

You have two options at this point to make it a bit more subtle. You can switch the blending mode to Overlay, or you can keep the mode at Normal and just decrease the Opacity. When you switch to Overlay, any white part of your image will remain white (like the upper right corner of this image), so I stuck with Normal and dropped the Opacity to about 25, and this was my final image:

Final Straight Edge Photo

Note that we can use the same technique with the Ellipse Select Tool:

Final Ellipse Tool Photo

And with the Lasso Select tool:

Final Lasso Tool Photo

In all of these photos, though, the darkness is rather pronounced – which sometimes is exactly what you want. If not, though, read on!

A More Subtle Approach

This time we’re going to start with a duplicate layer of our background and add a layer mask. I covered Layer Masks, and what exactly they do in the smoothing skin tutorial, but a quick recap: if you paint black on a layer mask, it will make that layer transparent there. To add your layer mask, right click on your duplicate layer and select Add Layer Mask.

Now select your blend tool (the one that looks like a gradient) and make sure you’ve got a black-to-white gradient, change the shape to radial, and bump up the Offset. The idea here is that you’re going to make part of the image darker than the rest – you’re using the gradient to fade into the darker image – the higher your offset, the more of your layer mask will be white – meaning that more of the photos original lightness will be visible.

Now, draw a line from where you want the middle of the gradient to be, to where you want it to end. I want to make sure the entire front of the car is involved in the gradient, so I draw my line like so:

my gradient line

And… it looks like nothing happened. Well, that’s because your layer mask layer is identical to the layer under it. But if you look at your layer mask now, you’ll see it has the gradient in it:

Mask with gradient

Now, in the Layer tray, click on the actual photo part of the layer with the mask. We’re going to darken it now, and we want to make sure we’re darkening the PHOTO part of that layer and not the MASK. To darken it, go to Colors –> Levels and move the left-most slider to the right, as we discussed in the levels entry. My final image looks like this:

Subtle gradient final photo

For easier comparison, here’s the original:

The Photo

When you look at the image with the vignette, it’s not really obvious that there’s one there. It’s not until you look back at the original that you can really tell there’s a difference. I think that might be why I typically prefer using this type of vignette. Of course, you’ve seen my photos and know that I sometimes use the more pronounced edges, too, so I don’t think either one is “right” or “wrong”. Go ahead and play around your images to see which looks best on them!

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  • Hey thanks for this post! Saved my bacon...

  • Brenda

    Thank you so much I have been trying to figure out how to do this and with this guide it was so easy. Again thank you.

  • Jayms

    This, the outer vignette, is working for me but:
    1. I chose to use the 'fill with similar color' and I don't see any feathering- how do I get back to check or increase the amount of feathering?
    2. How do I save the final finish? ex. Flatten?
    * I gonna add the cool ' watermark-it ' and save this baby;)

  • Jayms

    I always regret blowing up, I'm sorry. I know I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree, and although I do a couple other technical things- photography tutorials always gives me fits! I don't even shoot or post often anymore, I want to sell my xsi but alas: I made [that] mistake on that one shot that ,I sort off... been saving, (ok,I liked the shot) and, someone who is very good, has saved it to favs already?? that's a good but depressing felling. Funny: I learned two things but I learned the "Subtle Touch" the hard way...I thought I was just doing an elaborate fuzzy border-lol I thought since the two followed each other they were connected, boy, every' low self image' and insecurity I ever had reunites at photog 101 for me.
    I do realize: you put your ego aside and you're here, to help dummies like me, that can't afford photo shop either. I owe you a debt of gratitude- I learned two processes last night, and I'm going to hold off on deleting my accounts.
    again I'm truly sorry~James kIng

  • Jayms

    The Vignette was pretty straight forward BUT, When I tried the "A More subtle Approach" I ran into the same information gaps that I do a
    -You described what will happen IF you paint black on a layer but, you never said what she DID use?
    - "Click on the actual photo...the PHOTO part of the layer not the mask" = The actual Background photo or the duplicate?
    -"Draw a line from where you want the MIDDLE of the gradient to where you want it to end....? = the line looks like it starts at @ 1/4 of the way in, diagonally, from each corner. Do you mean; draw a line of the radius of where you want your gradient to end? OMG! I just figured out that the gradient is supposed to be ON THE TRUCK and NOT AROUND IT! - like the blurry EDGES border example we just went through ?@#$#%Y*&!?
    This could,ve taken 5 mins. instead of having me ruin this photo
    <img src="" width="763" height="574" alt="A "subtle" layers &amp; levels experiment-by Yoshifils"/>

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