Color grading with gradient maps

Color grading with gradient maps

When it comes to color grading, there are thousands of techniques. You can't say one method is better than the other. And none of them works universal for all images. Probably like all photographers, I try to photograph light and colors in a way I want them, so I have less work in post production. For images that look almost perfect out of cam, color grading using Photoshop's gradient map is a very quick method.


Gradient maps are a part of Photoshop for a long, long time. It took me a while to understand how to use them for color grading, though.

Mostly because you sometimes see people overdoing it. Even in some movies, the teal and orange blockbuster look is extensively exaggerated.

How to use Gradient Maps in Photoshop

  1. In the adjustments window, click on gradient map.
  2. Select a color for dark tones on the left and a color for light tones on the right. For example a blue for dark tones and an orange for light tones.
  3. Now give this layer a soft light and reduce the opacity to a value around 20 - 50%.
Out of cam

The colors look just a bit flat. Besides that, the image looks fine to me.

Gradient Map

Adding a gradient map in Photoshop using a blue to orange gradient.

Most simple color grading

With soft light and an opacity of 40%, the blue to orange tones (from dark to light colors) add a pleasing bit of warmth to the look. No further adjustments were made.