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Gradient Maps

Lesson 40 from: Fine Art Conceptual Photography from Shoot through Post-Processing

Bella Kotak, Pratik Naik

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Lesson Info

40. Gradient Maps


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Artistic Vision and Inspiration


Personal Projects


Creative Motivation and Defining Your Story


Organizing Your Inspiration


Building A Character


Creating Wardrobe and Props


Location Scouting


Lesson Info

Gradient Maps

So the first thing I'm gonna show you is how I, yeah, well we're going to desaturate this. So we're going to do it black and white, and I'm just gonna go back to my hue, and drop the opacity to 20. How does it look at 40? Yeah, 20 I'm happy with that. So the next thing I'm gonna show you is, let's have a look. I want to choose something that I haven't shown you before, And I think we should show you Gradient Maps. Okay? So how many of you use Gradient Maps? Brilliant. So fair few, half of you actually. So Pratik, can you talk us through Gradient Maps? Yes. So basically Gradient Maps is, let me just save this first, don't lose the information. Basically Gradient Maps is another way of quickly adding a color palette through the shadows, midtones, and highlights, because the way it works is, let me just show you by starting from the beginning is, in the Adjustment Layer Palette, there's Gradient, which we're not going to be using at the moment, we're using Gradient Map. When you load Gr...

adient Map, you'll see that my image changes to whatever color spectrum it has here. It won't look the same as yours, so if you're at home trying to do the same thing, and if it looks completely different at this stage, don't worry about it. Okay? What you need to do is actually click on the Gradient Map Bar over here, the color bar. I'm just making names up here. It's called the Color Bar. Click on the Color Bar, and you'll open this Gradient Editor. Here is where you can manipulate and modify anything you want. So for instance, I can click on the color on the left hand side, which is gonna be your shadow color. You know this because, I told you so, but also, when you click on a color you want to change, you simply need to adjust the color you want, and immediately it gives you a live feedback of whatever color you place here. This is just the first step, because we're not gonna apply to the full intensity. We're also gonna change blend modes. So we just want to pick the colors we want in each region. Same thing for the highlights. We can pick whatever color we want. We can also add more colors by clicking on right underneath the bar. So we add a color stop. So we can put a different color in the midtones, and then tweak accordingly. So once you hit "OK", That's quite beautiful. Done. But it shows you that, you can do a massive change with the color spectrum, using this as a base, and it's easily editable, transferable, savable. You can save them by hitting "New", and suddenly you saved your palette here. If you want to change your blend modes, like we talked about earlier, to "Overlay" and adjust accordingly, it adds a lot of contrast and color together in a way that's striking. So, that is what the Gradient Map is. I want to see what we can do with the, I'll be honest, you've been hanging out with me so much. That is fantastic. Isn't it? I read her mind sometimes? I love that. So yes, let's have a look at what happens when me multiply it. Ooh. I especially like the dress. Yeah, but overlay. I loved that. What other blend modes can we use as well? Well I quite like "Subtract", now and then, and I think that's way beautiful, especially if you drop the opacity of that layer to like 10 or 20. Oh wow, 30 is a bit nice, 40 it's very like, it's almost like, it feels like one of a moment scene actually. Yeah, because it's a cooler tonality, because it's subtracting the colors from there. Just a quick question for folks at home, could you explain again what the multiply does, what the overlay does? Yeah. Thank you. So to be honest with you, I can't even explain it, and I'll tell you why, because its such a in-depth explanation, technically and mathematically, that the only way to really explain it, the way that I still know how to do it, is visually looking at it, and I'll tell you what commonalities I see between these blend modes. Number one, these areas here are opposite of each other. So a quick example, is let's say that I have a, let's do Solid Color, actually, yeah, let's say we do a Solid Color, and we use any color we wanted. If I hit "OK", and I come down to "Lighten", what "Lighten" does, is as you notice, it didn't fill the color in every part of the image. It only filled the color in areas that were extremely dark. So for instance, if I click on that color, and I go lower, it's only gonna to fill this dark color in areas that were already darker than that specific color. So if I went all the way up here, it fills it in most places because, most of the image was darker than this color, so it lightens it up. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have a blending mode which is "Darken", and does the opposite effect. It's the inverse. So that's what "Lighten" and "Darken" does. If I set something to, say "Overlay", as you notice, it takes up properties of color, and it enhances the Contrast and Saturation of everything underlying it. Very similarly, we have "Screen." "Screen" is kind of like "Lighten", except it takes even more of the area and its Saturation as well. So as you see, there's a lot of commonalities, and they do very similar things, but the best thing to do is playing with them, and playing with how they interact, but the most common blending modes we use are "Overlay", "Soft Light", which I consider a softer version of "Overlay", cause it doesn't add as much Contrast, the "Lighten", "Darken", blend modes, multiply if you're going for a really rich dark mood, and these over here with the "Color Blend" mode. Just changing specific color properties overall. Are there any ones you use as well aside from those? I actually, check them all out, 'cause you never know, so if I'm feeling very playful that day, I will go to "Luminosity" and it will change the opacity, and see what's happening. And eventually you will determine, which blend modes become your favorites, and which ones don't, and again there's a series of adjustments that you are naturally drawn to that end up becoming this good style of color turning. So what I can happily show you mine, I would highly recommend that you guys experiment. Check out these different blend modes. Check out the different Color Adjustments, and really find some adjustments that really sing to you, and make you very happy, cause that'll start becoming part of your style. So just naturally, just start working with the ones that you are naturally drawn to essentially. So, in this case, I actually did quite like how it looked in "Subtract." So I'm gonna note that one. I'm gonna do it like that. Sorry, I liked how the "Gradient Map" was in "Subtract" blend mode. And we're gonna just duplicate that. You can duplicate an adjustment by pressing "Command" and "J", and this time I'm gonna check out what it looked like in "Overlay" 'cause I also quite liked how it looked. There. So in "Subtract", I might turn that down the Opacity of it, to maybe, yeah, something like 33 percent. [Laughter] Very specific. Very specific. In the overlay, we'll have a little play, but I think that's lovely. Yeah. About 50, 60 percent. Something like that. Yeah, 70, oh, that's lovely as well. When you say lovely, what about it is lovely? When you look at the image? At the moment, I'm looking at the skin tone. I see. Yeah, I really love the way the skin is looking. She looks very dewy. Most of quite liking what's happening with the greens. I think that's very like magical. But now, I think it's looking a little bit too dark, so I'm going to open up a "Curves" layer, and work on the RGB. So I'm gonna just, make a few points, bringing that, like a breeze of contrast, into that piece. There we go. So it brightened here okay. There we go. And add a little bit of contrast and pop as well, back into it while simulating the colors that I really liked. Something else that we quite like, is "Color Lookup." Do you want to tell us what "Color Lookup" does? Oh boy. So basically, if you're from the video world. How many of you guys actually edit video? Yeah, okay. So basically what "Color Lookup" is, is that, Photoshop, by default, have started to include these "Color Lookup" adjustment layers, and they've included a lot of presets. So they included Kodak stock, film stock and, what it allows you to do, is emulate very similar colors to these film stocks, or whatever presets they have available. One really fun preset that I like a lot is this "Foggy Night", and no matter what image you apply this to, it gives you the same feel. The reason why this is so different, than any other adjustment layer, is because the way these 3D LUT files work, is that, let's say that you have green on a specific image. This 3D LUT file will tell the green to be this shade of blue specifically. So every image you apply to, no matter how far it is away from that blue, it'll grab it and move it to that blue. So it has a set of instructions if you will. So, it works in a way different to Curves because through Curves, you have to pull colors from like, red all the way down to yellows, but this makes jumps from one color to another. That's why this is more consistent if you apply it to, shooting film, or shooting video I mean, but the main takeaway here is that, they have these really beautiful presets that we like to work with and also play with, most importantly. Yeah, a little hidden gem in Photoshop. And again depending on which version of Photoshop you have, you'll have different files here, just I don't know why they did that but it is. So it's fun to play around with. That's right. Yes. When you're using blend modes that darken and then raising it, lightening it through a curved layer, isn't it bringing noise into the image, or is that not happening here because it's a 100 megapixel file, or do you have to run it through a noise rafter? I'm just wondering how that impacts the quality of the image. So any Curve adjustments you make is going to impact the quality of the image, especially because you're pushing and pulling those pixels. Shooting with a medium-format camera, does give you a bit more leeway, in terms of how far you can push an image, which is probably why I quite enjoy it, cause I'm like, "Yes I can play!" But yes, yeah, in some of the photos, you will get, and I've got this as well, where I've pushed it too much and I've got banding, I got noise, and then it's just a case of talking to Pratik and being like, "What can I do now?" Sometimes a good resource, you can actually retain and save that file. With medium format, what tends to happen is because you start with all that data, and you start playing with in 16-bit, which is why we always start in 16-bit, is as you notice here, there's a lot less banding than there would have been in 8-bit. That's right as well. And the second thing is that, I've actually asked her before, I said, "You know, why do you actually build up that way, "when you can actually combine them?" For example, you could do exposure adjustments simultaneously with color, but its sometimes its the mentality of how artists work. You could do it that way but it hinders their performance level, in actually crafting those colors, cause even when you're painting, what people do is they build it in layers of multiple exposures, and multiple colors, but technically if you're a technical person, you'll end up wanting to do it together. So that's the pros and the cons basically, and it's definitely a con of having banding and it happens often. Like, we'll have to fix a lot of banding and stuff, but starting 16-bit really helps, as well as Adobe RGB. So, it's good to know. Yeah, I think a more sensible person would make more thought of sensible choices but then yeah see? And then if you're somebody who's a bit more artistic, you just kind of like go with the flow, and see what happens, and that pretty much what it is. Yeah, but that's also where the beauty of these colors come from, cause someone like me use a little bit more sensible. I can't actually get to her level of color work, because she is so good with how she can see the world, with whatever tools she uses, is less, more important than the actual technically accurate way, if I make sense. And I also think of it as, we've got Photoshop, and you can do a multitude of things with it, and essentially, I hate the idea of being limited. Anyway, so in anything I do, I hate the idea of being limited, even with, you know I showed you earlier, the different ways you can color tone an image in keeping the foundations of your color wheel in mind, I only have them there so that I know the rules, and then I just toss them out the window, and I kind of work with, "Go with the flow." So like I said, I keep myself very open, and if it just so happens that, it works just beautifully and it works with the color wheel, then that's an absolute bonus, but at the same time, what I'm always going for is something that aesthetically pleasing to myself. Yeah, and again, I think as a photographer, you're an artist, and you're allowed to be selfish, and you're allowed to like. It's only through that pure selfishness that you can actually find your vision. Like look at, is it like David LaChapelle? His work and his colors are all wild and beautiful but, he gets them because he's really just being his absolute self. Somebody else, maybe he'd show that to a teacher and they were like, "This is a bit wrong, "it's a bit too right," "like who likes this?" Because it didn't suit their taste, but it will suit somebody's, and if it suits yourself, that's the only person that you need to please. So. There was an interesting point about that because I understand a client that when I sent them the images, they were like, "Isn't the skin supposed to be this number, this number, this number, on the RGB channel? "That's what I learned in school." And I said, "Okay, if you want, "but the reality is, "it's sometimes visually pleasing, "overrides the technically accurate process anyway." So sometimes there are always different ways of looking at it. I think that makes you stand out more as well. Yeah.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Practice PSD File - Sleeping Beauty
Pratik Naik Retouching Actions
The Royal Collection - Fine Art Actions
Practice PSD File - Location Shoot (~700mb)
Practice PSD File - In Studio Shoot (~1.3gb)

Ratings and Reviews


Great class and great instructors. Genuine and informative. Practical tips to create stunning images. Seeing them work through the process from shoot to finished image was great and I loved that they shared the thought processes behind the creative decisions. Definitely recommended!


Truly a remarkable duo. Bella is so down-to-earth and humble for a photographer with such a strong beautiful and ethereal voice. Her explanations of her process really inspired me--I was sketching concepts throughout the class. Pratik's process really opened my eyes to "smart" retouching--understanding what can be done in fewer brush strokes and slimmer PS files. All in all a really unique and inspiring class that makes me excited to realize my next conceptual shoot. They're also adorable together!

Mai Her

I've gained sooooo much from this I can't even contain my appreciation and excitement! So much inspiration and so much generous advice and tips to help me! Thank you so much Bella and Pratik and Creative Live!

Student Work