advanced photoshop

Quick trick: Photographic toning gradients

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Tips & Tutorials, by Anna-lisa Saywell

Apply this hidden feature in Photoshop CS6 to replicate print styles

Original image:

Quick trick: Photographic toning gradients

Photoshop CS6 has a whole host of improvements and new features that have been celebrated and covered extensively through different media outlets. However, there is also a long list of discrete yet productive features that miss out on the spotlight.

Photographic Toning gradients are a notable example. Essentially, these provide a library of gradient styles, which mimic the behaviour of specific chemical treatments from the era when all photographs were developed in a dark room.

You might be wondering what is so special about a set of gradients. If you only use them with the Gradient tool, you’d be right to wonder because these were developed with the Gradient Map adjustment layer in mind and need that feature to work at their best.

A Gradient Map adjustment is a clever way of recolouring a photograph, based on the image’s luminance values. The colours at the left-end of the gradient are mapped to the dark and shadow areas of the image. The hues at the right are assigned to the bright and highlight pixels in the image. This enables a high degree of control for converting to black and white, or creating duotones. Follow along with these steps and see just how useful these can be.

Step 01: Find your gradients

Quick trick: Photographic toning gradients

Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer. In the Properties panel, click on the small arrow to the right of the gradient thumbnail to open up the Gradient Selection, then click on the icon in the top-right corner. Select Photographic Toning from the list. When prompted, choose Append.

Step 02: The new library

Quick trick: Photographic toning gradients

Open up the Gradient dropdown menu again to find 38 new gradients added to the list of presets. These are based on actual photographic chemical treatments. Choose the Sepia Highlights 1 preset to turn the image to black and white with only the bright areas tinted a sepia hue.

Step 03: Going further

Quick trick: Photographic toning gradients

Simply mapping the new gradients creates an assortment of new, useful and interesting effects. Yet that potential is multiplied by adjusting the blending mode of the adjustment layer. Turning the blending mode to Soft Light creates a warmer, high-contrast appearance.

Final image:

Quick trick: Photographic toning gradients


  • joyce

    Thanks! In all the years I’ve worked with Photoshop, I’ve never used this feature. I can now see all sorts of possibilities.