How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

If you are thinking about correcting that unwanted color cast in your images or adding a lovely tone to them for creative purposes, gradient mapping in Photoshop could help you with that. With the help of gradient maps, you can not only change colors or tones in your colored image but also colorize a black and white image. Gradient maps let you apply various colors to your picture’s highlight, mid-tone, and shadow areas. You can color grade them as an overlay or replace any undesired color in them with multiple tones. By creating and using gradient maps in Photoshop, you can bring your creative vision to reality and level up the way you edit. In this blog, we show you how to use gradient mapping for creative coloring in Photoshop.

What Else Can Gradient Mapping Help You With

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Gradient maps can help you create a gradient between two colors, and you can use this for some artistic editing on your images. Gradient mapping in Photoshop gives you more control over separating elements in your composition using color contrast, changing the mood of your image, and making your subject stand out from the background. It lets you harness the power of complementary and analogous colors, helping you create more attractive photos. With so many ways to use gradient maps, one might feel creating them in Photoshop could be a complex process, but the good news is – it isn’t!

Steps to Create a Gradient Map in Photoshop

1. Technique One

The first thing you’d need to do is to open your image in Photoshop. Then go to the toolbar and set the background color according to your choice. You can do so by clicking on the rear of the two squares and then selecting a color from the color picker panel. Once you’ve set your background color, this will be your highlight color. To get your shadow color, repeat the same process by clicking on the front square and setting the foreground color.

Now, create your gradient map adjustment layer by going to Layer and then New Adjustment Layer and choose the Gradient Map option. At this point, your photo might look flooded by color. Now, select Soft Light or the Overlay blending mode and adjust the Opacity to suit your preference. By the end of this step, your gradient map will be ready.

2. Technique Two

Another way of creating it is by opening your selected image in Photoshop and then making a gradient map adjustment layer. Next, you’ll have to set the blending mode to Soft Light or Overlay and then click on the Gradient option to open the gradient editor. After this, click on the square slider you see on the lower left (left color stop). Then, click in the color window. Here, you will be able to adjust the shadow color and see its effect on your image as you move the color picker around. Now, repeat the process with the right-hand highlight color stop, and you will have your gradient map ready for that image.

Experiment With Blend Modes

For your gradient maps, you may choose your Blend Mode to be Normal (default), but if you want to get creative and give your photo a different look, there are other options you can choose from. If you prefer a natural look, the Soft Light blend mode option might work well for you. The Soft Light blend would only affect your image’s darker and lighter areas while keeping the mid-tones as they are. For a more radical look, you can try the Vivid Light blend mode.

If you still do not get your desired look, try altering the opacity of your gradient map. You can also stack them by duplicating your map layer and changing the blend mode to bring out a completely different effect. When you are duplicating your gradient map layer, you may either choose to change the color of both layers or make changes to the blend modes of both layers. If you click underneath your gradient map bar in the Gradient Editor, you will see new nodes. They will help you diversify the colors and tones in your maps. Sliding the nodes will determine the effect your map will have on your chosen image.

Once you are done, save your map for future editing. To do so, you will have to use the preset manager in Photoshop, or they will be lost when you close the program. In the Name dialogue area, type in whatever you want to call your map and then click on New. Your gradient map will be saved and added to the other available presets in the preset manager.

Play With Presets

Though learning to create gradient maps in Photoshop might encourage you to explore your creativity, you could also try editing your images with preset gradients. Go to the Image option from the top toolbar and choose Adjustments from there. Next, click on Gradient Map and access the available presets. If you want to add more presets, click on the small cog icon in the Gradient Map Editor and navigate to Photographic Toning. You will see a pop-up window appear. Click on OK. Now, you will be able to see other preset gradient options and use them to your desire.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

When you do gradient mapping in your images, the possibilities are endless. There are so many different looks you can create and impress your clients with. Just ensure you use a similar or the same gradient map for the images from a particular wedding or engagement for a cohesive look in your albums.

If you want more image editing tips, check out the complete Lightroom and Photoshop Tips section of our website. At ShootDotEdit, we love sharing tips to help you grow as a wedding photographer. We also strive to lessen your post-production workload by offering professional photo editing services that match your style. To learn more about how we can help your wedding photography business, you can take a look at our pricing plans.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

There are several ways to color grade your photos, and plenty of different looks you can create. In this video, photographer Travis Transient will show you a simple and really versatile ways to do it – using a Gradient Map layer. All it takes is a single adjustment layer, so you can grade the images fast and achieve plenty of different looks.

Of course, start by opening the photo you want to adjust, and then add a new adjustment layer “Gradient Maps.” When you double-click on it, you can adjust it in a variety of ways.

You can select one of the premade presets, and this is what Travis chose for the first example:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Of course, it looks too extreme, but you can edit the colors. You can click on the orange pin and change the color to make it closer to the skin tone. You can also edit the purple and make it darker. Additionally, you can reduce the layer opacity to tone down the effect. Here’s Travis’ before and after with the first photo:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photoHow to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

When you open the Gradient Map layer editor, you can click on the cog within presets, and choose another set. There’s a preset collection named “Photographic Toning,” which grades the image but saves skin tones. Again, you can edit the color of the pins, and even add or remove them:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Since the preset Travis used here desaturated the photo a bit, he cranked up the vibrance in addition to grading, and here’s the before and after:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photoHow to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

In addition to changing the colors and opacity of the adjustment layer, you can also affect the final look by changing the blending mode. Set it to Soft Light to keep the midtones transparent, but add color to darks and lights.

I also played with Gradient Map and added some quick changes to some of my photos. So, here are a couple of different looks from me too:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Travis shares a bonus tip – you can apply these color maps to video as well. You’ll need to create a LUT: go to File > Export > Color Lookup Tables, press ”Ok” and choose to a folder to save the LUT. When you open a footage in Premiere Pro, you can apply the LUT you just saved and quickly color grade the video.

Color grading is a powerful addition to the look of your images. It adds to the message you’re sending and also affects the viewers’ emotions. Other than using Gradient Map adjustment layer, you can also go with luminosity masks, curves, solid color adjustment layer… Or you can combine two or more adjustment layers to refine the grading. But, for some quick fixes with plenty of possible outcomes, I think Gradient Map will do the trick.

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In this series, Helen Bradley discusses some handy Photoshop tools that are often overlooked or misunderstood, either because they’re hidden away or because their use isn’t immediately apparent. Yet these tools provide smart and useful ways to perform various tasks in Photoshop, so they’re worthy of adding to your Photoshop skill list.

In this sixth part of the series, we consider the Gradient Map tool, which is useful for converting color images to black-and-white and for colorizing grayscale or color images. It’s a handy and fun creative tool for photo editing.

To follow along as we explore the Gradient Map tool, watch the accompanying video.

About the Gradient Map

Photoshop offers many ways to convert an image from color to black-and-white. Unlike the other tools, however, the Gradient Map gives you a lot of control over how your image is converted. You also can use the Gradient Map to colorize a black-and-white image or to change the colors in a color image. This all-around tool’s interesting features can take you to new heights in your photo editing.

Gradient mapping in Photoshop is applied using an adjustment layer. The Gradient Map adjustment layer alters the image by applying a gradient map to the image. Unlike a gradient fill, which fills an area by using a linear or radiant blend of colors, the gradient map applies the gradient by using the lightness and darkness values in the image as a map for how the gradient colors are applied.

The best way to see how the Gradient Map tool works is to try it out. Here’s how to use it to turn a color image into a black-and-white image:

  1. Open a color image in Photoshop. Display the Layers palette if it isn’t already visible (Window > Layers).
  2. Set the foreground color to black and the background color to white.
  3. Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map to add a new Gradient Map adjustment layer. Click OK to select the current settings as those for the layer. When the Gradient Map dialog appears, notice that the gradient ranges from the foreground color to the background color—by default, it uses the current foreground and background colors. Notice too that the color photograph is now converted to black-and-white (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 The Gradient Map tool uses the current foreground and background colors and applies a gradient across the image. Here, because the foreground and background colors are black-and-white, the image is converted to grayscale.

Figure 2 Using the Gradient Editor, you can alter the gradient by dragging the color stops and the color midpoint indicators under the gradient. As you do this, you can preview the effect of the changes on the image.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

What you’ll need

Our book cover design has three elements on separate, named layers: Chair, Brick Wall, and Pattern.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Use a Fill layer to experiment with colors

Using Fill layers to colorize design elements makes it easy to try out color combinations before settling on a final look.

Select the Brick Wall layer. Click the Fill/Adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and select Solid Color. Pick a color from the Color Picker that appears. You can move the round selector to adjust the color, and then click OK. Tip: Drag the vertical slider on the rainbow-colored bar to view a different color range. Click OK.

The Color Fill layer affects all the layers below it. Once it’s added, you can adjust or change the color freely and also apply it to selective parts of your design, as you’ll do later in this tutorial.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Try changing the layer blending mode of the selected Color Fill layer to create other effects. We chose Color from the Blend Mode menu at the top of the Layers panel. This applies the selected color so you can see the texture in the underlying layers. You can also adjust the Color Fill layer’s opacity by dragging the Opacity slider in the top-right of the Layers panel.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Tip: It’s easy to edit the original color — simply double-click the Color Fill layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel, choose another color in the Color Picker, and then click OK.

Rearrange the Color Fill layer

Now that you’ve picked a color, you can experiment some more.

Try changing the layer order. If you move the Color Fill layer in the Layers panel, you’ll get different results depending on its position in the layer stack.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Colorize a single layer in the layer stack

By default, a Color Fill layer affects all layers beneath it. You can make it affect a single layer directly below it, regardless of the layer’s position in the layer stack.

With the Color Fill layer selected in the Layers panel, right-click the layer name (to the right of the layer’s thumbnail images) and choose Create Clipping Mask.

This indents the Color Fill layer in the Layers panel, indicating that it’s affecting only the layer directly below.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Explore other types of Fill layers

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to colorize your art, try applying other types of color and texture effects to your design.

Select the Pattern layer and click the Fill/Adjustment layer icon. Select Gradient. This creates a Gradient Fill layer that behaves a lot like a Color Fill layer. In the Gradient menu, pick any gradient style. Change the angle if you like, and then click OK. Finally, we changed the blending mode of the Gradient Fill layer to Overlay.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Apply colors selectively

Every Fill layer includes a layer mask. When the layer mask is white, it reveals or applies the color to the entire image. When you add black to the layer mask, it hides the color from corresponding parts of the image.

In our example, we selected a large, soft-edged brush (1400) at 100% opacity and painted over a part of the layer mask in black.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

To finish our book cover design, we added a title and subtitle. To make the subtitle stand out against its background, we placed a rectangle below the subtitle layer and applied a soft blue-gray Color Fill layer clipped to the rectangle layer.

Most Photoshop Elements users should ignore this tutorial.

However, if you like to make Photoshop Elements behave like Photoshop, read on.

Photoshop has curves.

With curves, you can adjust exposure, contrast, and color, at 14 points.

Photoshop Elements has a weak version of curves.

Go to Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Color Curves.

By using a gradient map, you can have a more robust version of curves.

Be sure to check off as you go along.

Preparation

1) Preserve your original file.

If you haven’t already done so, go to Preserve Your Original File.

2) Create a Background copy layer.

If you haven’t already done so, go to Create a Background Copy Layer.

Gradient Map Adjustment Layer

Let’s make a gradient map to simulate curves.

Once made, you can save the gradient map and reuse it at any time.

2) Make sure the foreground color is black, and the background color is white.

Don’t create a Gradient adjustment layer.

The Gradient Map window will open.

Your photograph will shift from color to B&W.

4) Click the gradient in the middle of the window to open the Gradient editor window.

5) If it isn’t already selected by default, select the Foreground to Background gradient.

The Foreground to Background gradient fades from black to gray to white.

On the top of the gradient, at the ends, are two square icons called opacity stops.

Ignore the opacity stops.

The square icons below the gradient, at the ends, are called color stops.

We’ll create more color stops.

6) Click just below the gradient, about from the left end, to create a new color stop.

7) Click, hold, and drag the new color stop left or right to position it at the 20% location, as seen in the Location box.

8) Double click the new color stop to open the Color Picker window.

9) Enter 20 in the B box, in the HSB section.

10) Create three more color stops at the following locations, and change their B box values to the figures below.

Make sure you use the B box in the HSB section.

Save the Gradient

Do the following in the Gradient Editor window.

11) In the Name box, type in a new name for the gradient, such as Curves Simulation Gradient.

A Save window will open.

Do the following in the Save window.

A window will appear asking you if you want to replace Untitled Gradients

Your gradient is now saved with the default gradients.

photo kaboom .com В© 2000 – 2021 Jim Beecher

The Desaturate command converts a color image to grayscale values, but leaves the image in the same color mode. For example, it assigns equal red, green, and blue values to each pixel in an RGB image. The lightness value of each pixel does not change.

Keep in mind that the Desaturate command permanently alters the original image information in the background layer. This command has the same effect as setting Saturation to minus (‑)100 in the Hue/Saturation adjustment. For nondestructive editing, use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

If you are working with a multilayer image, Desaturate converts the selected layer only.

The Invert adjustment inverts the colors in an image. You can use Invert as part of the process of making an edge mask to apply sharpening and other adjustments to selected areas of an image.

Because color print film contains an orange mask in its base, the Invert adjustment cannot make accurate positive images from scanned color negatives. Be sure to use the proper settings for color negatives when scanning film.

When you invert an image, the brightness value of each pixel in the channels is converted to the inverse value on the 256‑step color-values scale. For example, a pixel in a positive image with a value of 255 is changed to 0, and a pixel with a value of 5 is changed to 250.

Do one of the following:

  • Click the Invert icon in the Adjustments panel.
  • Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Invert. Click OK in the New Layer dialog box.

You can also choose Image > Adjustments > Invert. But keep in mind that this method makes direct adjustments to the image layer and discards image information.

The Threshold adjustment converts grayscale or color images to high-contrast, black-and-white images. You can specify a certain level as a threshold. All pixels lighter than the threshold are converted to white; all pixels darker are converted to black.

Click the Threshold icon in the Adjustments panel.

Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Threshold. Click OK in the New Layer dialog box.

The Properties panel displays a histogram of the luminance levels of the pixels in the current selection.

You can also choose Image > Adjustments > Threshold. But keep in mind that this method makes direct adjustments to the image layer and discards image information.

In the Properties panel, drag the slider below the histogram until the threshold level you want appears. As you drag, the image changes to reflect the new threshold setting.

The Posterize adjustment lets you specify the number of tonal levels (or brightness values) for each channel in an image and then maps pixels to the closest matching level. For example, choosing two tonal levels in an RGB image gives six colors: two for red, two for green, and two for blue.

This adjustment is useful for creating special effects, such as large, flat areas in a photograph. Its effects are most evident when you reduce the number of gray levels in a grayscale image, but it also produces interesting effects in color images.

If you want a specific number of colors in your image, convert the image to grayscale and specify the number of levels you want. Then convert the image back to the previous color mode, and replace the various gray tones with the colors you want.

Click the Posterize icon in the Adjustments panel.

Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Posterize.

You can also choose Image > Adjustments > Posterize. But keep in mind that this method makes direct adjustments to the image layer and discards image information.

In the Properties panel, move the Levels slider or enter the number of tonal levels you want.

The Gradient tool allows you to apply and adjust gradient colors on all layers, including pixel layers, fill layers, adjustment layers, live filter layers, layer masks, as well as vector and text content.

Settings

The following settings can be adjusted from the context toolbar:

  • Context —allows the adjustment of either the Fill or Stroke color of the selected object.
  • Type —converts the object’s color type. For example, from None to Linear .
  • Select, pick, and modify the object’s solid or gradient color—click the color swatch to display a pop-up panel. See the Color panel, Swatches panel, and Gradient editing topics for more information on the settings available.
  • Rotate gradient —rotates the applied gradient by 90°.
  • Reverse gradient —the end stops swap places. (All intermediate stops are also repositioned accordingly.)
  • Maintain fill aspect ratio —if this option is off (default), the end stops can be resized separately which changes aspect ratio. When selected, the end stops are locked to keep the aspect ratio (i.e. changing one will automatically update the other). This setting affects only Elliptical and Bitmap fills.

Preferences

Related behaviors can be adjusted from the app’s preferences:

Basically as you can see the photo has this weird purple saturation on the right side. I know it has something to do with overlay or color blending modes but I can’t quite connect the dots on how to match the right to the left.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

The second question I have is, when I do paint over grayscale image like this, how do I avoid having a uniform single color? Like I can eyedrop the left side of him, and paint the right side with just that color, but it would be better to have different shades of that blue-ish gray to look realistic. Should I use the gradient tool to paint a selection overlay? If so, how do I make my own color gradient instead of these presets?:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

2 Answers 2

You can use a few adjustment layers and masking.

Create a selection for the affected area. You might want to do this with pen tool for precise selection. The left side won’t matter much because we’ll mask it soften and blend with left portion of image. Right side edges of the jacket/clothes are the boundaries, so selection needs to be better.

I used quick selection tool for demonstration, you can use pen tool for more control. You can use same selection for all the adjustments and modify the masks individually. That’s what I’ll do. Also I’ve highlighted (yellow arrows) which portions will need soft brush in mask area adjustments:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Apply Selective Color and reduce the values of Magenta, Red a bit:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Use Hue and Saturation layer to reduce saturation of Magenta, Red and blue a bit:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Now, you might have lost some blue color details. So add a Color Balance layer to ‘bring’ back some blue and green maybe.

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Another layer to make it a bit warm: How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Now the right side look a bit brighter (ignore if that’s ‘natural’ or you want it as it is), so add a Levels layer and make it a bit less bright and add a soft mask so it affects only right portion. And make other tweaks/fixes by cross checking previous layers:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Layers Panel:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Note: All those adjustment layers, especially color related are not necessary. Feel free to ignore which you don’t feel like needed.

The idea is to tweak things and mask and try to see what works best. You’ll need to mask with soft brush at some points. Reduce or emphasize the adjustment layers using mask wherever necessary. Try different sizes of brushes and different opacity values. Try adjusting opacities of layers themselves.

About the color changing part, you can use Gradient Map. Your question is a bit unclear to me, but if you want to change colors of the clothes, you need to decide 3 or 4 main colors (some darker, some brighter) of the look you want to create and use them in Gradient Map adjustment layer (use a selection where you want to apply). Something like this:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

Or if you want to change entire image look and feel to a single color, you can use a solid color (or paint in a new layer manually with a solid brush, only the areas which you need) and try changing its Blend Mode to different modes like Multiply/Screen. See what works best for you. A few examples:

How to use a gradient map adjustment layer to colorize your photo

There’s a Photo Filter adjustment layer too in case you want to try.