Photoshop: How to Color Grade Your Photos

There are scores of ways to change colors and affect the colors/tones in your photos in Photoshop. The technique that I’m using in this video is using Gradient Map Adjustment Layers to quickly adjust the colors of our highlights and shadows and fade the amount of color in between. There are some very, very cool things that we can do with Gradient Maps and we’re going to cover how I use Gradient Maps to change the color and mood of an image in this tutorial.

1. Gradient Map as an Adjustment Layer

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Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map to apply a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to your image. The way this adjustment works is that the left side of the gradient is “mapped” to the darkest pixels in your image and the right side of the gradient is “mapped” to the brightest pixels in your image and everything in between is mapped to pixels depending on how bright/dark they are. If you want yellow highlights, set the color stop to the right to yellow, if you want blue shadows, set the left color stop to blue and your image will be mapped to match those colors.

2. Create Your First Color Gradient

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We’re going to change our Gradient Map to go with a very dark, not-very-saturated purple color for the shadows in our image and the highlights will be set to a very light, desaturated yellow color (think tan with a couple drops of yellow added.)

3. Soft Light Blend Mode

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Change the layer blend mode to “Soft Light” and you will see how it applies a color shift to our image. PRO TIP: You can use the hotkey Cmd + Ctrl + J to duplicate the Adjustment Layer and double up the effect. (You may want to reduce the opacity of one or both layers if the effect appears as strong as mine does in the screenshot.)

4. Preparing for Contrast

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Any time you add a Gradient Map and set it to Soft Light, it’s going to pour in a bunch of extra contrast into your image, whether it’s one gradient map or multiple Gradient Maps. I prepare my image for this influx of contrast by adding a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer below my Gradient Map Adjustment Layer and reducing the contrast slider almost as low as it will go. This will help to balance the added contrast of the Gradient Map set to Soft Light.

5. Experiment and Shape Your Image Colors!

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The good people over at Movies in Color have great info on the color grading that goes into beautiful movie/film scenes and you can check out the colors they show and soak up that info and try mixing up different colors to really take your images to the next level with some custom color grading made easier with Gradient Maps!
Be sure to watch the video at the top of this article tutorial for even more detail!

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