Detail of Gradient Map on Trudie Ann

Restoring Trudie Ann Part 6

A Gradient Map adjustment layer in Photoshop

Continuing from Part 5 and finding ways to tint my restored B&W version of Trudie Ann, I moved on to methods that are probably less commonly used than tinting with Camera Raw or a B&W, Photo Filter, or Solid Color adjustment layer. But there are advantages sometimes to using methods that provide additional controls for how the color is applied, particularly when using more than one color. So my next foray into tinting involved the Gradient Map adjustment layer.

From what I’ve seen, people often forget to think about the Gradient Map when they want to colorize a photo. Effects can range from delicate to surreal, depending upon the colors you use, where they show up in the gradient, and how you blend the layer with the image. A Gradient Map applies the color on the left to the darkest tones of the image, progressing up to the right end where the color is applied to the lightest values. That means you can place a dark color on the right, a light color on the left, and effectively convert your photo into something resembling a negative.

Images of B&W and Negative coloration
A B&W gradient with the normal dark at the left, light at the right, and then reversed to create a “negative” of the image. Here the white color stop was moved to the right to extend the value range that white would be applied to before blending into the black.

A Gradient Map also lets you determine how great a range of values any given color is applied to, similar  to the Balance slider in Adobe Camera Raw’s Split Tone effect. Except with a Gradient Map, you can use as many colors as you like, of any  brightness or saturation, and let them blend together by moving the stops on the gradient, just the same as with any ordinary gradient. So the Gradient Map adjustment layer brings together in one place the best of split tones and gradients to control color. It’s not easier than split toning in Camera Raw, but it’s considerably more flexible—you can even use a Noise Gradient instead of one based on manually placed color stops, which can be very attractive when used with a Blend mode. Like any adjustment layer, you have the option to further modify the appearance of the gradient with Blend modes, layer Opacity, and with a layer mask.

Results of Noise gradient and blend mode
The original flower is on the left. A noise gradient applied in Overlay mode alters the colors without distorting the relationship between the values, allowing for naturalistic results.
Results using Solid gradient and different blend modes
A solid gradient with three colors is applied to the flower at left in Normal mode, but applied in Overlay mode on the flower to the right for very different results.

Note that while the Gradient Editor allows you to set Opacity stops in the gradient you create, the Gradient Map adjustment layer ignores the transparency.

For Trudie Ann, I recalled a Nik Color Efex filter, Photo Stylizer’s Copper variation. I wondered if I might like this photo with a gradient that mimicked the effect, ranging from a deep russet to a strong yellow. After adding the adjustment layer, I clicked on the gradient in the Properties panel to open the Gradient Editor. This is the same Gradient Editor you see when you select the Gradient tool and click on the gradient in the Options bar, but it doesn’t have the same effect on the image since it is blended with it even before you change the layer’s blend mode.  After clicking on the color stop at the far left, I clicked on the Color Swatch and chose a new color in the Color Picker. I repeated the process for the far right stop, then clicked directly beneath the gradient bar to add new colors stops and chose a color for each of them.Gradient Map Properties panel

Results from first gradient
I’ve spaced the color stops fairly evenly along the bar to start. Because the Gradient Editor has a modal dialog (you have to close it to work outside of it), I adjusted the Gradient Map adjustment layer’s Opacity before adjusting the color stops.

Since the Gradient Map automatically colorizes the image, I was able to use the live preview while I dragged the color stops right and left, deciding how far a color should extend into a color range. I choose to move the darkest color to the right to encompass more of the dark values, and also moved the second lightest color stop to the right to have those darker tones reach further into the highlights. However, I could have moved the stops in a different direction in order to lighten the image instead. After I was happy with the results, I named the gradient and clicked New. The Gradient is saved in the Gradient dialog, but to save it permanently to disk, you can either choose Save in the dialog to save all the gradients in the Editor to a file, or after you’ve closed the Gradient Editor, use the Preset Manager to save a subset of those gradients.

Using color stop position to lighten
Moving the medium yellow color stop further to the left extends the range of the lightest yellow to even darker tones, lightening much of the image. The medium brown color stop was also moved left, lightening the shadow areas, but not the deepest values.
Using Color Stops to darken
Dark tones were adjusted, while the medium yellow was moved to the right, darkening and bringing back more detail into the lighter areas.
Name and save gradients
By naming and clicking New in the Editor, I could return at any time to apply it after experimenting with other gradients. But like all presets you might want to use later on, you should also save it to disk for safekeeping.

Whether or not I took extra steps to save the gradient, I wanted to keep the gradient in the Editor so I could try other gradients, or other versions of the same gradient, and easily return to any version I decided I liked best. All it takes to later clean up the unwanted gradients in the Editor is to hold down the Option/Alt key and hover over a swatch to see the icon change to scissors, then click to delete.

The Gradient Editor makes it easy to try out different color schemes, and to change the colors in an image using as many colors as you like. Because you’re using an adjustment layer, you can change your mind days, even years later, or use your current gradient as a “template” to a new version of the image. Once you get used to experimenting with it, the Gradient Map adjustment layer will become one of your best friends when you go to stylize photos or recolor the elements you use in your scrap and photo art.

Final Gradient Map applied 2 ways
The final image with the Gradient Map at 100%, left, and 50%, right. Because I’m using an adjustment layer, I can change my mind about how colorful I want the image to be later on when I use it on a scrap page or place it in a photo album.
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