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Using a gradient map

From: Photoshop CS6 Image Optimization Workshop

Video: Using a gradient map

It seems to me that the Gradient Map Adjustment is one that most photographers are not familiar with in Photoshop. And if you start dabbling with the Gradient Map Adjustment, you might quickly decide that it's not for you. But let me show you how this adjustment can be incredibly helpful in producing an interesting variation on a photo. I'll start off by adding a Gradient Map Adjustment. I'll click on the Add New Adjustment layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. And then choose Gradient Map from the popup. Make sure you're choosing Gradient Map down near the bottom of the list, not Gradient.

Using a gradient map

It seems to me that the Gradient Map Adjustment is one that most photographers are not familiar with in Photoshop. And if you start dabbling with the Gradient Map Adjustment, you might quickly decide that it's not for you. But let me show you how this adjustment can be incredibly helpful in producing an interesting variation on a photo. I'll start off by adding a Gradient Map Adjustment. I'll click on the Add New Adjustment layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel. And then choose Gradient Map from the popup. Make sure you're choosing Gradient Map down near the bottom of the list, not Gradient.

We certainly don't want to use the Gradient Adjustment in this particular case. So, I'll choose Gradient Map from that popup. And you can see that initially, I have just a black and white version of the image. And that's because I have mapped the luminance values in the image. So that the darkest value is black, the lightest value is white, and everything else is translated in between. So, this is a linear conversion to black and white. But there are other options available to us. If I click the popup, you'll see that we have a variety of gradients that we can map to the image. Here, for example, we have a blue through red to yellow gradient, and so what had been black will be blue.

What had been middle grey in terms of its luminance value will be red, and what had been white will be yellow. It's interesting, and a bit wild. And probably not what you're wanting to apply to any of your photographic images, although it is possible. We can click through some of the others here, and in some cases, you'll find some interesting results. In other cases, not so interesting. Part of that just depends on how interested you are in some wild interpretations of your photos. But if you don't like any of these interpretations for your image, don't worry. These ones are a bit crazy, but we can produce our own gradient maps that will allow us to create a very pleasing effect in a photo.

I'll go ahead and start off by choosing the Black to White gradient. That just gives me a linear interpretation to black and white. But then, I'm going to redefine this gradient. I'll click on the gradient itself in the popup, not one of the gradients in the popup, and not popup control itself. But I'll actually click on that Gradient Preview, which will bring up the Gradient Editor. I'll go ahead and move that over to the side so we can see more of the image while we're working. And then, I can set about the task of fine tuning this gradient. In most cases, I'll leave black as the left most color and white as the right most color so that I have a true black and a true white in the image. These are referred to as gradient stops, by the way. They simply define the transition between colors.

So, I'm starting with black, and then smoothly transitioning to white. But I can change any of these colors. Let's assume that we want to create some form of a sepia type of effect in the image. If I want to add a new gradient stop, I can simply click below the gradient. So, I'll go ahead and click below the gradient, and a new stop is added. Notice that it's just a copy of the black stop. But I can then click the Color Swatch. In order to bring up my Color Picker, I'll choose a warmish tone, and I'll make sure that it's relatively dark.

If I make that value too light, you'll see that the image starts to get very, very muddy. So, I want to use a dark value, and I want to make sure that it has a good color tone, I think maybe a little bit more red in this case. Yeah, that's looking pretty nice. Maybe somewhere around in there, that's looking kind of cool. I'll go ahead and click OK for now to accept that change. And then, in one of the brighter areas, let's say I want a little bit more of a kind of yellowish orange color. I'll go ahead and click below the gradient once again, and that gives me a copy of the currently active gradient stop.

I'll click the Color Swatch once again, and I'm going to shift the color up toward something a little bit more yellow. And I'll go to a brighter value as well. I don't want it to be too bright in this case, obviously. So, I'll just look at the image as I'm fine tuning things. And maybe somewhere right around there, looks like it's going to work out pretty well. But again, I can make this color anything I want. And obviously, it's easy to get carried away and create a bizarre effect in the image. But we can also create a very nice effect in the photo.

I'll go ahead and adjust there. That's maybe a little too yellow. I'll back it down a little bit more toward the kind of reddish orange value. I'll click OK there again. and then, I think I'll make the bright areas a little bit more of a yellowish type of tone. So, I'll repeat that process one more time. And shift toward more of a yellow, and get right up in a brighter color value, maybe somehwere up in that value might work pretty well. And maybe shift it a little bit further toward yellow I think. Right about in there that looks to be pretty good.

And I can adjust the overall color, not too saturated, I'll keep to the left to reduce saturation. At the moment, my hue is adjusted with the small vertical gradient. And so, brightness is a vertical axis in the larger gradient, and saturation is the horizontal axis. So, up here, we'll find relatively unsaturated and relatively bright values. That looks to be pretty good overall. I do think that maybe I need to fine tune the balance in terms of the luminance distribution. And I can actually change the position of my gradient stops.

So, if I drag this gradient stop over to the right, for example, you'll see that the dark values remain dark for longer because that's a dark value. If I shift it over to the left, I'm now compressing those dark values. So I can fine tune the overall appearance of the image by adjusting the position of those gradient stops. In addition, I can adjust the transition between gradient stops. So here, you'll see that I go from a relatively dark value to a midtone or slightly brighter value.

I can change the transition between them. So, compress it down toward the darks or up toward the brights as I see fit. In many cases, you'll find that this is purely a visual adjustment. You simply need to fine tune some of these controls to find the effect that you're happy with. You can certainly continue fine tuning your gradient to absolute perfection, changing the color. We can click on any gradient stop we like and then change the color by clicking on the swatch and choosing a new color in the Color Picker. We can also fine tune the position of the gradient itself and fine tune the transition between gradient stops.

Once you're happy with the result, you probably want to save it so that you can use it in future images. To do so, simply enter a new name for your gradient. I'll call this Brown Sepia since this is sort of a brownish almost redish variation on a sepia tone effect. And then, I'll simply click the New button. That will add a new gradient preset. And in the future, I can simply click that preset. I'll go ahead and click OK for the moment, and then I'm going to throw away my Gradient Map Adjustment layer and I'm going to start over. I'll go ahead and add a New Gradient Map so this could be for a different image, for example.

And I'll click on that Gradient Map option in order to add the Gradient Map Adjustment layer. And then, on the Properties panel, I'll click my popup and there is my Brown Sepia Gradient preset. I can go ahead and click on it, and that effect is applied to the image instantly. So, as you can see, the Gradient Map Adjustment gives you tremendous flexibility in creating what you might otherwise think of as a black and white interpretation of a photo. But one that can use a wide range of colors to produce your final image.

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Photoshop CS6 Image Optimization Workshop

28 video lessons · 457 viewers

Tim Grey
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