Gradient Maps?

There’s a load of different ways to produce a black and white digital image (I shan’t get into film photography today!) and each has its proponents and champions. Each also has its benefits and drawbacks and I have always felt it better to have a suite of conversion tools at my disposal, picking what is appropriate at any given time.

© Dave Whenham
The Silver Efex Pro conversion – but there are many more options!

One that I’ve used rarely in the past is the Gradient Map but I came across mention of it when flicking through a magazine this weekend so decided to have another look at it.

© Dave Whenham
The straight Gradient Map adjustment gives a nice punchy result

© Dave Whenham

Applying a Gradient Map adjustment layer, using default settings and a black to white gradient produces a decent result out of the box with this image taken on the local canal this morning.

For many images I think that this simple method will produce perfectly acceptable black and white images with a great range of tones and the minimum of fuss.

But that isn’t the end of the Gradient Map tools powers as I was finding out the further I read. It is possible to map the colour tones in other ways than simply mapping them onto a continuum form black to white. How about using a continuum from yellow to blue? Stick with it, as this is the basis of split toning and whilst it appears to have fallen out of popular usage recently, at least on photo-sharing social media outlets, it is an extremely powerful technique that can produce some really satisfying images if used properly.

Split-tone (how “in-your-face” is down to you!)

The split-tone version (above) was created using two Gradient Maps and a Levels adjustment as shown in the screenshot below.

© Dave Whenham

The first Gradient Map produced the basic black & white conversion as shown at the top of the page. The second Gradient Map adjustment layer was adjusted so that the tones were mapped on a continuum from blue to yellow (I have not included detailed how-to as there’s lots of demonstration on t’web). At 100% the effect was rather overwhelming but by dropping the opacity down to 29% the toning was much more subtle although it left the image looking a little flat and lacking in contrast. A simple Levels adjustment layer solved the problem bringing the punch back into the image.

© Dave Whenham
Red/Blue toning

Now, toning isn’t to everyones taste but I enjoy having another tool at my disposal and there’s no doubt that used selectively it can be a very effective method of producing variety and creative options. The red/blue toned version above puts me in mind of some of the copper-toned prints I produced in my Mum’s kitchen back in 1978. However, my fingers aren’t stained, I haven’t accidentally bleached a sixteen inch wide stretch of her kitchen worktop and there’s no bottles of toxic chemicals under her sink!

So there we have it. A quick play with Gradient Maps and hopefully some ideas for your own investigations. Enjoy!

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