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Photography How-To: Create a Soft Vignette in Photoshop

When I took up photography for the first time seven years ago, a tutorial in my college book taught me how to make a tutorial: Make a giant square around the image, and feather the edges. That results in this kind of look:
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Now, depending on the strength you do it at, it can be labeled as “bad” or “worse”. This is where I should clarify – somewhat, this will be opinionated. You might have clients who like this. Heck, Sears Portrait and Kmart studios do it, so someone must like it, right? Right. That is, if you like selling $25 sessions with 5 included prints. But for those who are trying to break out of the systematic niche and want to be known as a boutique studio, there is just a lot of things you should stop doing, and one of them is this terrible vignette. Because aesthetically, our eyes are trained to like certain things; it’s a part of our chemistry, and this is not one of them (although, based on results, there are exceptions to the rule).

So today I want to show you how to get this kind of vignette – soft, pleasing, and beautiful. A classic look that will never grow in and out of trends or styles:

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It warms up the photo significantly, adds focus to the subject, and doesn’t overwhelm. It creates a sort of “spotlight” on the subject, which is much more pleasing than a big box around them. And on almost any portrait you take, it will add a depth to the color and tone that the bad vignette will never give you.

So let’s begin!

You can click on all of the images in this post to load larger thumbnails, in case they are hard to read or see.

Open your image in Photoshop. What we are about to do can sit on top of other layers and will play nice, so if you are already doing other edits and have a layered file, this is also fine. Your window will look something like this (I am using Photoshop CS5):

step1Next, you want to add the layer needed for the vignette, which is know as a gradient fill layer in Photoshop. You’ll go up to the menu at the top, click Layer>New Fill Layer> Gradient, as shown here.

step2When you click on it, this pops up, and depending on your settings, will look a little different, but this is what you want it to look like. You can name the layer something else if you want.

step3When you click on OK in the box, it will pop up with a gradient Fill menu. You want to fill it out like I have it below. Gradient should go from transparent to black (or white, you will change later so original color doesn’t matter), Style should be Radial in the drop down list, Angle should read -90 degrees, Scale should read 150%, and you should check the Reverse, Dither and Align with Layer boxes. Click OK when finished.

step4You’re going to now get this menu. This will help you choose the color of your gradient. In the bottom left color you see Color Stop, which is the little colored square.

step5Click on the little box labeled Color. You will get your Color Selector in your next menu. You want to choose a color that is similar to a deep red-brown, which is part of what makes these colors pop so naturally. My preference is #250808. Alternatively, if you are doing the opposite and lightening up an image with a cool vignette, you can choose a color like a cream or white.

step6After all of these steps, your image should look something like this. It will be very overpowering, which is okay, because now we are going to edit it so it isn’t:

step7In your layers palette, make sure your gradient layer is selected, and go to the top drop down menu. It will read Normal, but once you click on it, there are tons of suggestions. Pick Soft Light. Your image will now look like this:

step8And you’ve done it! Some people preference it this dark, but I prefer to lighten it up a bit. To do this, change the Opacity of the layer in the layers menu, which is located next to where you just changed the layer style. I personally prefer something around 60%, which is still noticeable but not super bright.

step9You did it!!

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t teach dogs new tricks, young or old! This is a super simple, easy to follow step. You can even create an action to run it, once you get a little more advanced and learn how to create actions. It will do all the steps for you automatically, rather than having to do them step by step yourself.

Here are a few more examples of this gradient vignette on other images, so you can see the diversity of the layer:

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Freebie Friday: Graphic Design Elements for Photographers

titleI took on the task of designing a senior book for my sister’s graduation this year. She has a style of modern with a hint of vintage boho, and I wanted these elements to represent that. Her full book can be seen here, and not all of the Graphic Design Elements for Photographers are in this freebie as some of them are derived from copyrighted work and cannot be given away, but the ones I made from scratch I included in this package!

Before I learned graphic design I struggled to create graphics I liked that I could use in various parts of my business. This is why I wanted to create Graphic Design Elements for Photographers that were easy to use and customize, and helped to enhance marketing, albums, photos and more! These elements come in both PNG and PSD form. The PNG’s can be used with any program that allows layering of files, and the PSD’s work with all versions of Photoshop. In the Photoshop files, you can adjust the colors of the elements to match your style or theme, while the PNG files have a transparent background so you can place them as is directly into the document without any editing needed.

Here is an example of the elements, and shown used in the book design I did, with download link below the images:

Example5 Example4 Example3 Example2 Example1Click here to download graphic design elements freebies

Las Vegas Mini Sessions – Valentine’s Day Mini’s

This winter I offered a special on Valentine’s Mini’s, which is something I haven’t done before. I ordered special paper from the company Ella Bella, handmade hearts to hang, and painted this vintage stool to match the session theme. Each beautiful kid that came had so much fun! I had even gotten the pleasure of working with a cute Yorkie puppy during the sessions.

Clients love these sessions because they offer so much to them in such a little amount of money, making them super affordable. Most clients who come to these tell me they used to only be able to afford one or two sessions a year, but now they can come six or seven times and get the images they need, with the ability to save them for printing when they need them, instead of feeling like they have to buy prints “now.” As one client put it,

“I wanted to go to the studio in the mall, but they wouldn’t offer me high resolution prints with the package. They also didn’t want to do anything other than the white background, had no Valentine’s props that would work with my child’s age, and wouldn’t let me order prints later on; wanted me to do it right then. I wanted to be able to wait. I also could not get an online gallery that looked professional, and I really wanted to be able to show these off without using their cheesy gallery system. This was SUCH a good deal for me!”

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Freebie Friday – Pinterest and Blog Collages

titleThis is for all of my photographer friends! I am in some photography groups on Facebook where I help to encourage and critique newer photographers, and some of the things I talk to them about is their blog posts and how to post images. With most blog systems, it is hard to get images to line up or post the way a person wants, and often the technical knowledge of photographers can be limited to where they are unsure how to edit CSS code to get images to load properly. On top of that, many new photographers load in their large high res images without realizing it, and it causes the blog page to lag trying to load those images.

As a result, I’ve created these handy Pinterest and blog collages, which will allow you to share a preview of a session (or in some cases, all images of a mini session) on your blog, Pinterest, Tumblr, and any other social media site that takes vertical images. Using layer masks and the text tool, these collages are very easy to navigate, and come with instructions on how to load in your images and use the layer masks.

When posting images, it can help potential clients to see more than just one image from a session. A diverse set of images from a single session shows consistency in your work, and lets potential clients see that you don’t just get one or two great images from a session, but many of them, which shows your ability to work the camera from beginning to end. For a beginner photographer, this is especially important as clients will be looking to see how your entire sessions end out. You can use these Pinterest and blog collages to easily create collages for the web.

As a photographer, often we cannot choose between one or two images to share, and we want to post several of them at the same time. Pinterest and blog collages allow you to share multiple images in one photo, which is also great for linking. On Pinterest, as a photographer myself, I often find myself saving inspiration in the form of other photographer’s collages, and seeing how their sessions progress with collages make it easy to see their train of creation in their sessions. I enjoy being able to not only see others’ inspirational collages, but to also post my own, which have been pinned hundreds of times by other photographers, too. If you like to share your work as inspiration or just enjoy the feeling of someone liking or sharing your work, these collages can help you do that, too.

Clients love to see previews before their entire gallery is ready, and they also love to share them. I will send Pinterest and blog collages to my clients along with their proofs, allowing them to post it to their personal social media as well. It’s a great way to get exposure and for clients to fall in love with your work every time they log in and see the collage and it’s likes and comments.

There are two collages: Escapes and Simplicity. Each folder contains the PSD file, a JPEG example, a text document explaining how the Pinterest and blog collages works, and the font files (for Windows) needed for these collages. I explain in detail how to use the PSD file, so those who are new to Photoshop can also learn with ease how to use them.

I am working on a “Freebie Friday” offer for each Friday, if possible, so please be sure to check back each week to see what else I have to offer! I want to give back to the community that helped me grow so much in my business.

Click here to download Simplicity Pinterest and Blog Collage SimplicityPinExample

Click here to download Escapes Pinterest and Blog collageEscapesPinExample