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Burn image edges for a classy and dramatic vignette effect

Added on Thursday 15th of January 2009 01:45 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

Even the simplest photo techniques can produce effective and aesthetically pleasing results. We’ll show you a classic burned-edge vignette that will please even your choosiest client.


To create a classic burned-edge vignette, we’ll:

     Darken the image edges with a curves adjustment layer, which is easily editable.

     Create a blurred layer mask for the vignette shape.

     Show you how to add a sepia tint to complement the technique’s old-fashioned appeal.


Living in today’s fast-paced society can take its toll on even the most entrepreneurial spirit. While you can’t turn back the clock, you can use Photoshop to allure your clients with this old-fashioned technique. So take a step back in time with this simple—yet dramatic—burned-edge vignette effect, as shown in Figure A.



Dodge and burn

Dodging and burning images in traditional film darkrooms allows film developers to control light exposure and thus how dark or light their prints get. For example, photographers can shield portions of their photo paper, a technique known as dodging, to block the light and keep sections of their photo lighter than others. Alternatively, exposing some areas of a print for longer periods of time, a traditional technique known as burning, produces darker, sometimes black, areas of a print.

Photoshop has both a Dodge and a Burn tool, but we won’t use either tool for this technique. Instead, we’ll simulate the burned look with a curves adjustment layer.


Pick a portrait

You can use any photo for this tutorial. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file portrait.jpg. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.) Then, launch Photoshop and open the file shown in Figure B.




Darken the image

Even though we’ll create a burned look, we won’t use the Burn tool. Instead, we’ll use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the image edges. Using a Curves adjustment layer benefits you because the layer is nondestructive, it’s editable, and it offers masking options. 


To darken the image with a Curves adjustment layer:

1.       Click on the Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer button located at the base of the Layers palette and select Curves from the pop-up menu.

2.      In the Curves dialog box, click on the highlight point, located at the top right of the histogram, and drag it straight down until the Output text box reads 15, as shown in Figure C. Alternatively, once you select the highlight point the Output text box becomes active enabling you to enter the value instead.

3.      Click OK. Your image should look entirely dark.




Create the vignette shape

Next, you’ll add the vignette shape. You can create any shape you wish: rectangular, oval, freeform organic shape, whatever suits your image best. We’ll use the Rectangular Marquee to make a rectangular-shaped vignette.


To create the vignette shape:

1.       Select the Rectangular Marquee tool from the Tools palette.



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