September Focus Tip: Using Photoshop Gradients with Color Efex Pro 4
Teaching the gradient technique using Color Efex Pro 4 filters is one of the basic lessons I teach in all of my training sessions. I also receive requests to provide this technique in a written lesson format, and with that in mind, I thought that providing this lesson as a blog would be a great way start.
Tips To Get Started
It is always best to start with an image with a fairly plain background, not too cluttered or distracting. Note that all of the images above show great simplicity where a gradient can add a subtle highlight or a contoured vignette. Also be sure to complete all of your non-global exposure adjustments in Viveza 2, and any facial or specialized retouching before applying the gradient technique.
Start out by selecting Color Efex Pro 4 from the Nik Selective Tool or from the Nik Software list found in the Photoshop Filter menu.
After the interface opens, select the filter you would like to use. This lesson will include using the Midnight filter from the Filter List found on the left hand side of the user interface.
After selecting the Midnight filter in the dialog on the right side, next to Color Set, use the drop down to select Sepia. The choice to use the Sepia color set is due to the over all color of the image. Pair the color selected to blend with the background colors or use neutral. This image has the Blur slider adjusted to 100% and the Brightness slider adjusted to 79%. The Contrast and the Color sliders are not adjusted and remain at the default settings.
Next, use Control Points to remove the Midnight Sepia filter effects from the skin and the clothing of the subjects. Click on the Minus (–) Control Point button, then click on the arm of the woman to place the Control Point which will remove the dark and soft effects of the filter. Also place a Minus (–) Control Point on the woman’s dress and the man’s pants, this will remove the darkening filter effects from the clothing. To ensure that the shadow behind the couple remains, place a Plus (+) Control Point on the background just to the right of the woman, and just above the couple on the wall. This will add drama and keep the rich tones that need to remain on the wall and shadows.
This filter needs to be placed on a new layer with a layer mask. Nik Software automatically creates this new layer with a Layer mask when the Brush button, found in the lower right hand corner of the interface, is used. The Nik Selective tool will appear and the image will have a new layer with a conceals-all mask, (black). Using the Brush button will also automatically select the Paintbrush tool front the Photoshop tool palette.
Activate the Photoshop Gradient Tool by going to the Gradient Tool Icon located on the Photoshop Tool Bar found on the left side of your Photoshop window. If you cannot find the Gradient Tool, it is possible that the Paint Bucket Tool is selected instead. To obtain the Gradient Tool, click and hold on the Paint Bucket Tool until a fly-out shows with the Gradient Tool. Click on the Gradient Tool to select it.
With the Gradient Tool selected, the tool bar at the top of the Photoshop interface will show the gradient as black to transparent, (black to checker board). If you cannot see a black to transparency as an option, transparency will need to be activated. Next to the word Transparency is a box, (found in the middle of the Photoshop tool bar), click on the box and a check mark will appear. Your transparency is now activated.
Next, click on the down arrow next to the gradient display in the upper left hand corner of the Photoshop interface. This will display the optional gradients that are available. Click on the black to transparency, which is found second from the left on the default list. The black to transparency gradient will allow you to add more than one gradient to the mask and achieve a wide variety of effects with the same mask.
Then next step will require using the Reflected Gradient, select the Reflected Gradient from the Gradient Tool Bar.
This image is made more dramatic by using the Reflected Gradient. This technique creates a beam of light passing through the image. Placing the Reflected Gradient takes a little forethought with the start and stop position. Starting where the center of the Reflected Gradient needs to be located, click and hold on the start position, and drag perpendicular to the direction that you would like the beam of light. Think of a right angle to the beam to make it easier to find the direction. If the beam is not in the right position, or if it is too narrow, click Command or Control Z to have Photoshop undo your last step. This will allow you to place the beam again. Remember that the gradient will have a perfect reflection opposite of your mid-point.
With a little practice, the light beam placement will become an easy and dynamic extra for your images.
Tone down the dramatic beam of light slightly to allow for a more realistic feel by changing the opacity of the effect on the whole image. To tone down the effect, go to the layers menu in Photoshop. Lower the Opacity slider to 0%. Then, gradually increase the opacity until you see the desired image effect. It is better to start at 0 and increase opacity than to start at 100% and reduce opacity. Starting at 100% and decreasing opacity will result in the effect being applied too strongly. Starting at 0% will allow you to better judge the strength of the effect.
Below is the before and after using the gradient tool in combination with the Nik Software Midnight filter found in Color Efex Pro 4.