Burn your photo's edges

Use your image editor to simulate a traditional darkroom effect that emphasises your subject.

Back in the days when photographers used film and darkrooms, you could control the look of your prints with techniques called dodging and burning. As you exposed a print, for example, you could cover part of the photographic paper on which you were exposing the image. This effect (dodging) would make the obscured section lighter than the rest of the image. Alternately, you could expose another section of the photo longer (burning), and this would make it darker. Burn part of the photo long enough, and it would turn black.

150454-band-burn01-b

This week, let's try applying the burn effect to add some subtle vigetting to a photo. You can work with any image you like, but it helps to start with one that is already predominately dark overall, like this shot of my son's marching band, taken at a nighttime football game.

Let's say that we want to focus on the middle of the image by gradually darkening both sides, until the extreme left and right edges are pure black. There are any number of ways to do that, but I'll show you an easy method that relies on the Levels tool.

Open the photo in your favorite photo editing program. As usual, I'll demonstrate with Adobe Photoshop Elements, but you can apply the steps using almost any program.

Get Your Vignette Set

Begin by creating a duplicate layer: Choose Layer, Duplicate Layer, and then click OK. Working in a layer allows you to easily vary the overall effect, and even to revert back to the original photo with minimal fuss.

At this point, we should automatically be working in the top layer, but you can verify that by checking the Layers palette on the right side of the screen. Make sure the top layer is the one that's selected.

The next step is to select the region that we want to preserve in the photo. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (it lives in the fifth cubby from the top in the toolbar on the left side of the screen). In the Options toolbar at the top of the screen, set the feathering to a fairly large value. The more pixels in your image, the bigger your feather value should be. For my sample photo--which is 800 pixels wide--I'm using a feather of 50 pixels.

150454-band-burn02-b

Now draw a rectangle that contains the part of the photo you want to keep. You will end up with something like the image linked here (note the rounded corners, caused by the feathering).

In order to burn the sides, we'll need to employ a favorite trick of mine: Choose Select, Inverse to swap the selected and unselected parts of the photo.

Get Out Your Blowtorch (Just Kidding)

150454-band-burn03-b

Now, the only thing left to do is to actually burn the image. Choose Enhance, Adjust Lighting, Levels. Drag the black point marker all the way to the right, so it is in line with the white point marker.

150454-band-burn04-b

To get rid of the distracting selection marks, choose Select, Deselect. Finally, you can put the finishing touches on your photo by cropping it to size. You might end up with something like my final version.

And remember--you can try for a similar effect by dodging the edges of your photos. Look for images with light backgrounds and dodge the edges into pure white

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dave Johnson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?