Three (or more) ways to make a vignette in Premiere Pro

UPDATE: I wrote a plugin that will allow you to make your own vignette in a more convenient manner. It’s still not ideal due to some limitations of After Effects SDK in Premiere Pro, but you can download it on my other site – Creative Impatience.

One feature that I lack in Premiere Pro is masking and vignettes in its standard color-correction tools. Unless you are using plugins like Colorista, other dedicated grading software or simply send your sequence to After Effects (if you have it), there is no obvious way to make a vignette. Here are however three ways to accomplish this effect, each having their pros and cons.

The first two ways to make a vignette require use of a blending mode, and towards this you need to understand what they actually do. I recommend going to ProVideo Coalition site, they have a nice tutorial on the subject. We will be using multiply mode to darken the image or overlay to saturate and lighten/darken the image (basically increase contrast and “punch”).

Multiply mode darkens the underlying image using the luminance value of the layer (clip) to which it is applied. 100% black darkens underlying layer to 100% black, 50% gray darkens by 50%, so for example 50% gray multiplied by 50% gray is 75% gray, and 100% white is totally transparent.

Overlay mode is partly multiply, and partly opposite. In overlay mode, 50% gray is transparent, darker colors work like multiply, and lighter colors lighten the image in the opposite manner than multiply: 100% brightness (white) makes layer below white, 25% gray makes underlying 100% black 50% gray, and so on. An overall effect is an increase in contrast and saturation (if you want to get more “punch” from your footage, try making a copy of it on the layer above and applying overlay mode to it, and see what happens, it’s a common trick to use).

I hope you’re not confused yet :) Now for the vignetting:

1. Photoshop file

Simply create a Photoshop file or tiff with a dimension of your sequence. Set your foreground color to black, and background color to white or gray, click on the second gradient option to select radial gradient, click on “reverse” and drag from the center of attention outwards, drawing a vignette shape. The lightest point should be placed where the center of attention should be in your footage, and the darkest on the outside. Save the file, it should look something like this:

Import the file to your project by dragging it into project window, put it on the timeline, and apply appropriate blending mode – it’s available under the opacity part of Effect Controls palette for this clip. Tweak opacity setting to achieve desired effect.

It is a very simple, method, that is also the least intensive on CPU, although it requires switching to another program to do part of the work, and does not provide easy way to change settings – you have to change the file itself. Another advantage is that you can put it on the top layer and affect all layers below.

2. Separate layer with ramp

Create a new solid in project window. The color is unimportant, make it the full size of your sequence. Then put it over the footage, put a “ramp” effect on it (it’s in “generate” sections. Select radial, reverse, and move start point towards the center, and the end point towards the edge of vignette. Your ramp should look similarly as the Photoshop file above. Then apply blending mode and adjust opacity as in method 1.

This method is a little more CPU intensive, but gives you the possibility to change the vignette without leaving Premiere, and does not require you to have Photoshop or any other such tool at all. You can even animate the vignette if you feel like it.

3. The Circle effect (added)

If you don’t care about elliptical vignetting, you can use the Circle effect, which populates the oh-so-intuitive category of “generators”. It is a really versatile effect that I’ve found only recently. If you apply it for the first time, you will most likely dismiss it – as I did. However, it has most things that a decent vignette needs – set your blending mode to multiply, set your color to black, add feather, reverse the mask, and there you go. What is missing is the possibility to draw an ellipse instead of a circle, and to rotate it. But still it can be pretty useful, and it is not very CPU intensive. No CUDA acceleration though.

By the way, if you thought that the Ellipse effect present in the generators category would make your day, you’d be sorely disappointed. It’s a completely different effect, incidentally totally broken in Premiere Pro, even though it works well under After Effects.

4. Lightning Effects

The most demanding, but also giving you most options, including the possibility of additional color correction, is the effect that I have hardly ever seen mentioned in the context of Premiere – “Lightning Effects”. It is quite a powerful tool, giving you a lot of AE lights functionality without the need to use dynamic link or such. If you want to create a vignette, simply apply it to the chosen clip. Now do some tweaking:

  1. Select the first light as the spot light (usually set as default).
  2. Click on the effect name or the transform icon to the left of it to see visual input in viewer window.
  3. Adjust the center point, both radiuses (radiae?) and the angle so that the center is where you want to point viewer’s attention.
  4. Alternatively tweak focus (feathering) and intensity properties for additional effects.
  5. You can also tweak Ambient Light Intensity and Exposure to adjust overall lightness or darkness of the image.

Voila! This is it. Below are some pics before and after. As you can see I decided to go for rather subtle effect, but Lightning Effects is a really powerful—if CPU intensive and not supported by GPU acceleration—tool that you can add to your editing and color correction arsenal. It has enormous potential, and creating a simple vignette with it may even sound like a blasphemy, but it’s a good place to start the exploration. The only drawback is that you can’t apply it to multiple layers below like you can with other two methods. But hey, in Color you can’t do it as well, so don’t complain :D

Visual input of Lightning Effects filter

Footage before

Footage after

About Bart Walczak

I'm a video editor, and an aspiring colorist and VFX artist, with some experience in desktop publishing, web development and programming.
This entry was posted in tips, video editing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Three (or more) ways to make a vignette in Premiere Pro

  1. blitz says:

    very nice to sum these tehniques for making vignettes without 3rd party software in Premiere Pro and After Effects,.Thanks!

  2. samggi says:

    To make an elliptic vignette using the Circle tool you need to apply it onto a New->Transparent Layer. That layer can then be transformed in the Effect Controls using the Motion tool-> Scale Width. All you need to do is increase the width until you end up with an ellipse. Voilá
    More on this technique here:

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