How to Add a Vignette to a Photograph with GIMP

While technically a lens defect, darkening towards the corners in a photograph is an effect that many people find desirable; possibly due to the fact that nearly all cameras of a certain vintage did this in a very pronounced way. Done properly, it can bring the viewer's attention to the most important part of your photograph (such as a person). The effect is easy enough to duplicate with GIMP, the foremost open-source photo editing software.


  1. 1
    Open your photograph in GIMP (File ->> Open).
  2. Image titled Adding a black layer to your photo.
    Add a new, black layer. Bring up the Layers dialog with Ctrl+L. Click the "New Layer" button at the bottom left. Enter a name for it (we'll use "Vignette" in our example). Set "Layer Fill Type" to "Foreground color" (this assumes that your foreground colour is set to black, which it usually is). Hit "OK".
  3. 3
    Make it a soft light layer. In the Layers dialog, click on your "Vignette" layer to select it, and select Soft light from the "Mode" drop-down box. You will notice your whole image darkening noticeably. This is fine.
  4. Image titled Adding a layer mask to our "Vignette" layer.
    Add a layer mask to your new layer. Right click on your "Vignette" layer and go to Add Layer Mask. In the dialog that pops up, you want "Initialize Layer Mask to" set to "White (full opacity)". Click "Add".
  5. Image titled Select some area around the centre of your frame, or a point of interest; this does not need to be exact.
    Loosely select some area around the centre of your frame. Use the freeform select tool (press F to bring this up) and draw a selection somewhere around the primary point of interest in your photo. This does not need to be exact (and it might even be better if it is not).
  6. Image titled Filling this area with black will cause your original photo to show through.
    Fill this area with black. Use your bucket tool (Shift+B) and click within the selection to fill it (this is assuming, again, that you have your foreground colour set to black). You'll notice that the area within the selection has gone back to normal; this is because black areas on the layer mask (which we are editing) make the layer transparent.
  7. 7
    Deselect your selection with Select -> None.
  8. Image titled Use a "Gaussian Blur" with a very large radius to blur your layer mask.
    Blur your layer mask. Go to Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur. In the dialog that comes up, you want "Radius" set to a very large amount; a tenth of the longest edge of the photo is not too much. The larger the radius, the more subtle the effect will be. For our small 683x1024 photo, we used a radius of 159 pixels, which may not have been enough. Hit "OK". You'll notice that the sharp edges that used to exist at the borders of your selection have gone.
  9. Image titled Turn the opacity of your vignette layer right down. Don't over-do it!
    Change the opacity of the "vignette" layer. Click on your "Vignette" layer to select it (if it isn't already selected), and then slide the opacity slider towards the right until the effect is subtle enough. Our example used an opacity of about 50%, but what you use is up to your judgment. Too many photographs using a pseudo-vignette effect overdo it hugely. Don't do this!
  10. Image titled The end result.
    You can now save your image in a format of your choice (JPEG is best for photographs). You may also want to save one version of it with the extension ".xcf", which will allow you to later edit your image in GIMP (while retaining layers, layer masks and so forth), in case you notice a problem.


  • You can use a related technique to emulate another lens defect: corner sharpness fall off. Duplicate your bottom layer, use Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur to blur it, and then add a layer mask as in steps 4-8 above. You may or may not find that the focus blur plugin has better results than Gaussian blur here.
  • You can make colours in the corner fall off with a very similar technique.
    Before you merge down, try duplicating your "Vignette" layer (right click on it, Duplicate Layer) and setting the mode to "Saturation". As the saturation of black is zero, this will cause the saturation to get less around the corners as well. Again, the opacity of this layer should be very low. Handle with caution.

Things You'll Need

  • The GIMP, which can be downloaded and installed for free.
  • Any photograph; this technique may work best for people and animal photographs, but you will probably find other creative ways to use this.

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