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.
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.
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.
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.
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.