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Create a high key vignette in the darkroom

Create a high key vignette in the darkroom - Adding a vignette to your photos is easy in the darkroom and can be very effective. Peter Bargh of ePHOTOzine shows you how with just a piece of card.

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Category : Darkroom Printing
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Adding a vignette to your photos is easy in the darkroom and can be very effective, and the only extra you need is a piece of card.
Words & pictures Peter Bargh

A vignette is where the edges of a picture are made to go lighter or darker depending on the effect required. An image with a lighter edge is known as a high key vignette and is one we will look at in this tutorial (we covered low key vignettes last month).
To create the vignette you need to prevent light exposing the edges of the paper and a mask is required to achieve this.

1 To determine the correct size of mask, magnify the image on the baseboard so it fills the area to suit the paper you will print on.
Place a piece of card that's the same size as the paper on the baseboard and make a mark at the top and bottom where you want the vignette to start and end. Now draw an oval about a third smaller than the area you want to use and cut it out and discard. You will be left with a piece of card with an oval aperture. The illustration above right shows the print area we want to cover in black and the area we will cut out is shown as a red outline inside.

2 Now make a test strip to determine the correct exposure for the photograph

3 Hold the mask about three or four inches up from the baseboard so that it's positioned over the print, swing the enlarger's red filter under the lens and switch the enlarger on. You'll see the image appear on the paper through the card and you can adjust to get the right size and ensure it's central.

4 Hold the card in place, switch the enlarger off move the red filter out of the way and switch the enlarger back on for the calculated exposure time. Move the card gently up and down slightly to create a soft edge throughout the duration of the exposure. The result will be a correctly exposed centre and a white edge

5 You can try various things to alter the resulting vignette. Some of these examples are below. Have a play around to create your own versions and make notes so you can recreate the results in the future.

Here's what happens if you lay the mask directly on top of the paper. A hard edged vignette with no gradation.

In this version the card is held around three to four inches from the paper to create a soft edged vignette.

Here's the card is still held at four to six inches, like the centre image, but with part of the exposure made without a mask to add some detail to vignette area.


Here's we've recreated our first example using the card mask placed directly on the paper but but with part of the exposure made without a mask (like example three) to add some detail to vignette area.

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