Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

Embracing imperfection, recording emotions, one impression at a time…

Optical vignetting


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Vignetting, also known as “light fall-off” (sometimes spelled “light falloff”) is common in optics and photography, which in simple terms means darkening of image corners when compared to the center. Sometimes this is added on purpose to focus the viewer on the main central subject but it also occurs naturally, so why does this happens.


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When light travels through any lens, light rays at the outside edges of the lens travel further than they do in the centre. This is especially noticeable on wide angle and super wide angle lenses and gets worse when you use a wide aperture.

When this happens, what is called the “cosine fourth law of illumination falloff” occurs, which states that this light falloff is proportional to the fourth power of the cosine of the angle between the peripheral lens light ray and the optical axis. This can get very complex and technical but basically the rays further away from the optical axis will always travel longer, so by the time they reach your digital camera sensor, vignetting shows up in your images. So some of this phenomenon of reduced peripheral image illuminance (darker outer images) is due to the cosine law of natural vignetting. In addition, the cross-sectional area of an oblique beam traversing the lens may be reduced in comparison to that of an equivalent axial beam.


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Mechanical vignetting

Another cause of vignetting is a mechanical feature of the lens intruding into the field of view, as there is some mechanical peripheral darkening of the image alongside the optical vignetting. This mechanical vignetting can be caused by the round rim of a lens hood that is too long or of the wrong aspect ratio, or an added filter. Remember the lens is loud and the image is rectangular so this’ll effect the corners of the image.

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See also "Why does the aperture not cause vignetting when it gets smaller?" in the Aperture section HERE


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