Creating Contrast using the Gradient Map in Photoshop

beforeandafter

by Emma Wood

Converting images using the gradient map tool in Photoshop is the first thing that I do when I want to convert an image to black and white. The Gradient Map is a really handy tool that not only converts your image from colour to black and white but also one that allows you to create contrast even before you add any layers.  I thought I’d show you how I use it.

Here I have my SOOC shot, all I have done is adjust my white balance in Lightroom before taking the image into Photoshop.

converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial
I click on the ‘create new fill or adjustment layer’ which is below my thumbnail.  It’s a round circle, half black and half white.  I then choose the gradient map option.
converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial
Here is the image with just the gradient map conversion, and no tweaks.
converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial

When I double click on the actual gradient layer, it will bring up the panel you can see below it.  I can play with the smoothness (where it says 100) but I just keep it as high as it goes, since it gives me maximum contrast at 100.   Increasing the contrast within the gradient map can also be achieved by playing with the sliders.  The pointers on the left control the darks and shadows on my black and white image.  If I slide it inwards it will increase the darks.  The pointers on the right control the highlights, the more I slide them in, the brighter they become.  And the middle pointer controls the mid tones of my image. If I want to increase the brightness of my mid tones, I just slide towards the left, and if I want my mid-tones darker, I slide towards the right.

converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial

So while this isn’t a perfect black and white conversion I think it’s a great start and you can see that already I’ve produced some nice contrast to the otherwise bland gradient map conversion that I began with.

Next, just to make the background a little darker and add extra tonal contrast, I add a curves layer and click on the multiply option in the top left hand corner.  This makes the whole image darker and from there I  bring the brightness back onto her hair and skin by masking off the layer with a soft black brush.

converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial

I finish my edit off by cloning out the distractions, cropping and adding a curves level with an s-bend.

converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial

And my final edit and SOOC side by side:

converting images to black and white using the gradient map in photoshop tutorial

Emma WoodEmma Wood, United Arab Emirates
CMU Instructor | CM Mentor
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Emma currently resides in the United Arab Emirates with her pilot husband and 5 of their 7 children, the older kids are now studying in the UK. She loves any chance she gets to spend some one on one time with her children, watching a movie with her husband, or getting out and about and exploring new places. Emma starts her day with a Latte and can’t live without her earl grey tea, camera, iPhone, MacBook Air, avocados and miso soup. Despite discovering photography as a means to document her children’s lives within the past few years, she has always had a love for photography, “particularly black and white which stems from my love of black and white films when I was a child.” Her passion is black and white photography, often described as moody and earthy, and bringing out beauty from the most simple concepts. Emma arms herself with a Nikon D700, a variety of prime lenses and a Lensbaby. She is the instructor of the CMU workshops Shooting 103: Foundations of Composition, Shooting 107: The Art of Mobile Photography, and Shooting 205: Timeless Photography and Emotive Expression.

Read all photography tutorials by Emma Wood.

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