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Creating a High-Key Vignette using Gimp

Adding a vignette is a process that used to be done in the darkroom. Here we show you a simple digital way using the free image editing software, Gimp.

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using gimp to create a high key vignette

Creating a high-key vignette in the darkroom from a negative is a simple enough process, but what if you don’t develop your own films and use a digital camera? You may not be able to do this to your picture as its developing, but you can always use GIMP to recreate the effect very easily. This method is versatile enough to provide you with both high and low key vignettes, with varying degrees of opacity and edge strengths and unlike the darkroom technique you can try several styles and shapes quickly and without any waste.

Step 1 Look at your photograph and decide what style of vignette you’d like to apply. Here we are using a photo of a woman in a wedding dress so a high-key vignette would suit the image better. You can make your vignette any shape you want by selecting your image using the various tools, here I think an oval would suit the image’s dimensions nicely so that is the shape I am going to use.

Step 2 Create a new layer and name it ‘Vignette’, the choose the tool best suited to the shape you wish to use. Now decide whether you want a sharp edge on your vignette or not; if you do leave the settings as they are, but if you want a smooth transition select the ‘Feather’ option in the bottom left pane and choose the size of the transition you want to use. My image is rather large so I used a large feathered area, but on smaller images you will need to keep this value lower, unless this is what you want of course.


using gimpt to create a high key vignette


You can preview how large the transitional area will be by pressing the Quick Mask button in the bottom left of the image window, and then press it again to return to your normal selection.

Step 3 Move to your ‘Vignette’ layer and select Select>Invert. Choose the Bucket Fill tool and press x to swap from black to white as your foreground colour. Then click anywhere outside your selection to fill it and create a simple high-key vignette (below left).

using gimp to create a high key vignette

using gimp to create a high key vignette

Step 4 If you want to allow some of the surroundings to show through, you can play around with the opacity settings in your ‘Vignette’ layer. This recreates the effect of partially exposing some of the image before applying your vignette (above right).

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