How To Create a Soft Fade Vignette Effect

The Affinity Photo Live Vignette doialog box is shown.
Affinity Photo uses a Live Vignette filter or you can do it yourself.

A vignette, or soft fade, is a popular photo effect where the photo gradually fades into a solid colored background, usually, but not necessarily, in an oval shape. By using a mask, you can create this effect flexibly and non-destructively in in several applications including Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Affinity Photo and practically any other image editor out there.

The purpose of this technique is to draw the viewer's eye to a portion of the photo that you choose.Other uses are to subtly highlight an area of the photo or, as is quite common, to create a photographic effect for a photo.

Though they all have slightly different ways of creating the effect, they all have a common two-step technique:

  1. Create a mask
  2. Feather the mask.

Let's start with Photoshop CC 2017:

Create a vignette in Photoshop CC 2017

  1. Open a photo.
  2. Choose the selection tool from the toolbar.
  3. In the tool options, set the selection type to Ellipse.
  4. Drag a selection around the area of the photo you want to keep.
  5. Go to Select> Select and Mask to open the Properties panel.
  6. Adjust the Transparency to reveal or hide more or less of the image.
  7. Adjust the Feather value to soften the edges of the mask.
  8. Use the Contrast slider to improve or reduce the pixel contrast in the mask.
  9. Use the Shift Edge slider to expand or contract the mask.
  10. Click OK to return to the Photoshop interface.
  11. Click the Quick Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel to apply the settings and the mask is accepted. The image outside of the mask is hidden and the background layer shows through.

    Create a vignette in Photoshop Elements 14

    It's is a similar workflow in Photoshop Elements 14.

    Here's how:

    1. Open the image in Photoshop Elements.
    2. Select the circular marquee and select the area you wish to highlight.
    3. Click the Refine Edge button to open the refine Edge panel.
    4. In the View Pop down, select  Overlay. This puts a red overlay over the area of the image that will be masked.
    1. Move the Feather slider to adjust the opacity distance of the mask edge.
    2. Move the Shift Edge slider to make the mask area larger or smaller.
    3. In the Output To pop down, select Layer Mask. This will turn the selection into a mask.
    4. Click OK.

    Create a vignette in Affinity Photo

    Affinity Photo takes a somewhat similar approach to its Photoshop and Photoshop Elements counterparts but there are a couple of ways of applying the vignette. You can use a Live Filter or make a selection and manually adjust the effect.

    Here's how:

    1. Open a photo in Affinity Photo.
    2. Select Layer>New Live Filter Layer> Vignette Filter. This opens the Live Vignette  panel.
    3. To darken the area to be affected by the Vignette, move the Exposure slider to the left.
    4. Move the Hardness slider to control how distinct or how soft the transition between the vignette and the image center will be.
    5. Move the Shape slider to change the shape of the vignette.
    6. Open the Layers panel and you will see the vignette has been added as a Live Filter. If you want to adjust the effect, double click the filter in the Layers panel to open the Live Vignette panel.

    If a Live Filter approach isn't to your liking you can create the vignette manually

    Here's how:

    1. Make your selection.
    2. Click the Refine button at the top of the interface to open the Refine Selection dialog box.. The area to be masked will be under the red overlay.
    3. Deselect Matte Edges
    4. Set the Border slider to 0. This will keep the edges of the mask smooth.
    5. Move the Smooth slider to smooth out the edges of the mask.
    6. Use the Feather slider to soften the edges.
    7. Use the Ramp Slider to expand or contract the selection.
    8. In the Output pop down, select Mask to apply the Mask.

    Conclusion:

    As you have seen three different imaging applications have remarkably similar ways of creating vignettes. Though they each approach this technique in similar ways, they also have their own way of doing it. Still, when it comes to creating vignettes it is a two-step approach: Make a selection and make the selection a mask.

    Updated by Tom Green