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How to Color Grade Photos in 1-click with Gradient Maps in Photoshop

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How to Use Gradient Maps in Photoshop to color grade your photos

Gradient maps are a secret weapon for retouchers and colorists. It’s so easy to make photography look rich or cinematic, by adding a simple gradient Map, and a couple of other easy moves that we will get to in this Photoshop tutorial by Colin Smith of PhotoshopCAFE. (Thats me). This tutorial is for Photoshop 2020+ when they added the gradient panel. I have a tutorial here for earlier versions of Photoshop.

There are several parts to this short, but in depth tutorial.

  • Using the Gradient Map
  • What a Gradient Map does in Photoshop
  • How to make the Gradient Map look really good
  • Getting all the extra “hidden” Gradients that come with Photoshop
  • Adding Photographic toning in Photoshop (You’ll love this one)

Using Gradient Maps in Photoshop

We will start with this image from Adobe Stock, you can use one of your own images.

Color grading in photoshop 2021

Click on adjustment Layers in the Layers Panel

Choose Gradient Map

Choose gradient maps in Photoshop

The Properties panel will show the last used Gradient active

Gradients in photoshop

You can see how it effects the photo right away.

convert to black and white with gradient maps

How a Gradient Map Works

The gradient map maps the colors of the gradient to the tones of the image.

The colors on the left of the gradient are mapped to shadows, the colors on the right are mapped to highlights.

how gradient maps work

Here we can see the results of a blue to white gradient.

Understand gradient map

Making the Gradient Map look good

So far, we have changed the color of the image, but we want to blend it with the original colors to get a more color graded look.

In the Layers panel choose the Gradient Map layer.

Change the blending mode from Normal to color.

add photoshop layer mask

And now the tones are preserved and only the color changes. Look at this beautiful rich blur tint.

add a rich blue tint to a photo

To move into a more cinematic color grade, lower the opacity of the color layer, so it blends with the original color.

adding cinematic color grading

Look at this color, it’s ready for TV or the movies, and it was easy.

Recapping the 3 moves.

  • Add Gradient Map
  • Change to Color Blend <Mode
  • Adjust the opacity.

Now, read on and find out how you can unlock hundreds of gradients that are in Photoshop already, but hidden.

How to add beautiful color toning in Photoshop

Unlocking Hidden Treasure in Photoshop

Open the Gradients panel Window>Gradients (Only in Photoshop 2020 or newer) here for earlier versions of Photoshop.

Click on the panel menu and choose Legacy Gradients

Finding all the hidden gradients in Photoshop

You will see a whole library of gradients load up.

how to load legacy gradients into photoshop

Go back to your gradient Map layer and click on the properties panel.

All these Gradients will now be visible in the menu. Scroll down to the Photographic Toning ones, these are really good. They have been in Photoshop forever, but so few people know about them. You are now one of those lucky people (Aren’t you glad you came to PhotoshopCAFE?)

photographic color tones in photoshop

Try clicking other options to instantly update your image.

The Matrix color toning in Photoshop

How a Gradient Map is different than a gradient overlay

Here you can see a red to green gradient is over the image. Its position based and has no regard to tone.

how to do gradient like NIK in photoshop

Here, the green to red gradient is applied as a gradient map. The reds to Shadows and greens to highlights.

Reddish tint on photos

If you choose the Reverse option is will flip the gradient map

reverse a gradient in Photoshop

Now greens are in the shadows and reds in the highlights.

eerie color toning in Photoshop

I hope you found this tutorial enlightening.

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15 responses to “How to Color Grade Photos in 1-click with Gradient Maps in Photoshop”

  1. Really great tutorial, Colin. Even though I have used gradients for several works, this seems more coherent and easy to play with. Thanks once again, Colin!!! Keep up the great and fun work.

  2. Terrific. And I’m sure there’s lots more can be done with Gradient Maps. (eg. using more than one perhaps). Another tutorial? Many thanks.

  3. Fantastic!! It works well and adds to other content learned from the Photoshop Virtual Summit (2020)!
    Can this used to become an “action” for a group of images?

  4. Clear, concise, undesrtandable and fairly useful, as always. Thanks for helping us improve our knowledge !

  5. Hi Colin
    I wondered whether it was possible to preserve the original colour and tone of, say a portrait, so I selected the model and then reversed the selection before applying a colour grade map.

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