How do ‘Motivated Vignettes’ improve your color grading?

September 1, 2022

Colorist Cullen Kelly explores vignettes: What they do, when they’re appropriate, & how to deploy them in a motivated and photographic manner?


Motivated Vignettes – What are they and how do you create them?

Vignettes are one of the first adjustments I was exposed to when I began color grading, and like many colorists, I became a bit addicted — they always seemed to add some extra depth and focus to the shot. As my craft matured, I often wondered: should I use vignettes all the time? And: When shouldn’t I use them?

As is usually the case in color grading, the answer requires more nuance than “always” or “never,” and we also need to think not only about when we use vignettes but how. This is our focus in today’s Insight. We are exploring what vignettes do for us, situations where they’re more or less appropriate, and how to deploy them in a motivated and photographic manner.

Key Takeaways

After watching this Insight, you should be able to understand:

  • How to think about vignettes as a complement to nailing our exposure — rather than a substitute for it
  • Where to apply  vignettes judiciously when we want to add more “weight” while keeping a healthy level on our subject
  • How to use vignettes more photographically, rather than always drawing the same shape regardless of lighting conditions

Related Insights

Questions or Comments?

Vignettes are a topic that colorists love to dig into. Use the discussion below to share with us how your use of vignettes have changed over time. If you’re new to the topic, let me know if I helped you alter your way of thinking (and how so)?

– Cullen

Member Content

Sorry... the rest of this content is for members only. You'll need to login or Join Now to continue (we hope you do!).

Need more information about our memberships? Click to learn more.

Membership options
Member Login

Are you using our app? For the best experience, please login using the app's launch screen


Homepage Forums How do ‘Motivated Vignettes’ improve your color grading?

  • They are indeed addictive, but I sometimes inadvertently muddy the light source by putting a vignette over it. When I think intentionally, I use the vignette to augment the directionality of the light, like Cullen did in his example by shifting it to the right.  So the vignette becomes a way to manage the fill lighting by adding, subtracting, bending or cheating it a bit to optimize and enhance the intent of the image.

    • Cullen Kelly

      Very well put! Thanks for your insights.


    I have personal  technique to create more depth on image with a vignette,

    I create black color generator node  below layer mixer then I make my shape mask by vignetting what surround my subject than I put the blend mode to Softlight then I reduce the key output gain of color-generator node to 10%-15% depends on your taste

    I got pleasing result always


    • Marty Webb

      I completely forgot about this. I used to do this quite a lot.

      You can get some other interesting results if you don’t use a black solid and just lay the image over itself in softlight. Then just go wild with the curves until you get something that looks good. I’ve managed to get some good results that way a few times.


        instead you do curve in my technique I manage with the luminince qualifier by soften the shadows depends on the scene

        its already set on my fixed  node tree, I only activate the node and change the  mask,  if its strong in the shadows I control the qualifier or the mode opacity

        for me its more practical and fast if I have hundreds of shots


        • Cullen Kelly

          Cool ideas and techniques Jalil! Thanks for sharing.

  • My first reason to use a vignette was if I wanted to mimic a more ‘filmic’ look of the fall off of a camera lens. Accurately reproducing that kind of optical fall off with your controls (not just lowering the gain, I prefer to use gamma more) is something I’m never quite sure about?

    • Marty Webb

      Yeah I’ll use gamma too. Or more recently HDR exposure. I usually don’t like to drop the highlights too much. I think that can often make the vignette too visible.

  • Jim Robinson

    It seems that this particular insight is aimed toward light shaping using vignettes. Lens vignettes can be quite organic if not pushed too hard. But the idea of shifting the viewer eyes to important things in a frame, the subliminal and subtlety are in my opinion the key. Especially if someone tracks it on a moving camera, there isn’t many occasions where real people have a follow spot operator in their kitchen.
    So I think that using the vignettes to help sell the story is something that maybe should be done more if the camera work is not adequate. There are time considerations as well if this was done on all frames.
    As far as the example here, the first consideration in my opinion should be looking at where the light is entering the frame. I think with such a strong light on the cupboards and the counter in front of what looks like a window – that maybe that should be dealt with first to lessen the light ratio , then add the vignette to make the view look at the person.

  • Cullen Kelly

    Thanks for your insights, Jim! Great ideas as usual!

  • Jamie Neale

    Another great topic. Thanks, Cullen.

    My preference is to use power windows to make the lighting mimic how light naturally falls off. Obviously, this has to be within the creative context of the story.

    Using windows and subtle luminance tweaks can really make an image sing. I tend to dial in the contrast and ratios well before looking at colour separation. I guess what I’m really trying to do is to create an image that feels observed and not captured.

    • Cullen Kelly

      Sure thing Jamie — really well put insights here, completely agree!

Log in to reply.

1,000+ Tutorials to Explore

Get full access to our entire library of over 1,100+ color tutorials for an entire week!

Start Your Test Drive!