Photoshop Gradient Tool: Blending Images
1 Photoshop Gradient Tool: Blending Images
|This image was created from two separate photos, using Photoshop’s Gradient tool.|
Photoshop's Gradient tool may not be on most users' lists of go-to editing options. But it should be. In combination with layer masks, the Gradient tool lets you create natural-looking composite images. In this tutorial I'll show you how to combine a compelling foreground element with an interesting sky to create a seamless, believable landscape image.
In an upcoming article we'll explore how to use the Gradient tool to modify layer mask-enabled adjustments to brightness, contrast and toning. But first things first. Here, I'll show you how to make two separate images blend seamlessly into one.
When two is better than one
If your instinct is to resist the whole notion of composite imagery because it feels like 'cheating', you should know that the idea of combining pictures together has a long photographic tradition. Swedish photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander pioneered the photomontage a.k.a. 'combination printing' in the 1850s! In addition to solving the problem of capturing both sky and foreground on the low-latitude, blue-insensitive emulsions of the day, many 19th century masters appreciated that combination printing is a wonderful way for photographic artists to realize their personal vision, just as painters do.
Here our goal is to seamlessly blend the two images below into a the single image shown at the start of the article. Since we're combining two images, you may be wondering why I don't just use the Quick Selection tool to cut the sky out of one image and paste it over the existing sky in the other image.
The problem is that masking or silhouetting the horizon line is much harder than you may think. The roofline won’t be a problem, and the soft edges of the mountains at the horizon are do-able, but those tree limbs and leaves will be a source of heartbreak! Chances are, even after hours of careful work using Channels, Image Calculations or the Pen tools, something will still look 'funny' around those trees.
So let’s just skip all that. Using the Gradient tool in a layer mask is fun, effective, and best of all, speedy. Of course, there are some projects that need a complex silhouette, but when you're blending things like sky and clouds, using a gradient is not only easier, but produces better results.
Layer masks and gradients explained
The concept of layer masks can be hard to grasp, even for experienced Photoshop users. So before we go any further, here’s a good, simple way to think about them. Masks have only one job: they hide stuff. A mask on a pixel layer makes it possible to hide parts of that layer without destroying any pixels. By using masks instead of the Eraser or History brushes, you can always change your mind about any edits because you're never deleting pixels, only changing their visibility. Better still, you can restore the visibility of any hidden items even after the image file has been saved, closed, and reopened.
When a layer mask is white, it reveals the layer to which it is attached. A black layer mask does just the opposite. It hides the layer to which it is attached. But of course, a mask does not have to be filled completely with black or white. And that's where gradients come in.
When making a gradient inside a layer mask, the thing to remember is that a black-to-white gradient means 'hidden-to-revealed' or 'invisible-to-visible'. A white-to-black gradient means exactly the opposite: 'revealed-to-hidden' or 'visible-to-invisible'.
Gradient tool options
When you select the Gradient tool there are two options you need to set: the gradient's colors and its shape.
|You can set the Gradient options to display as thumbnails or in a list view, at a choice of sizes. You can even opt for a text-only view to save room if you're working on a small monitor.|
In this tutorial we'll be using the Black, White option to fill in the layer mask. These are the colors we want to use to hide and reveal parts of the layer. The Black, White option is, by default the third item in the Gradient flyout menu shown above. Note that if you set Photoshop's foreground/background swatches to their defaults, (keyboard shortcut: D), then choosing the Foreground to Background option in the Gradient flyout menu will give the same effect.
You also want to make sure to select a Linear Gradient in the options bar. In a followup article on gradient masking, I’ll be using both the Radial and Reflected Gradients. (If anyone can tell me a practical use for the Angle or Diamond Gradients, I’d love to hear from you.)
|Once the Gradient tool is selected you can decide the shape of your gradient. You can apply it as a straight-line (linear), radial or reflected blend (shown here). For this tutorial only the Linear Gradient will be employed.|
I'll be honest, it takes a little practice to get the hang of using the Gradient tool and its options, but the idea is pretty straightforward. The Gradient tool (unlike a Gradient Fill or Gradient Map Adjustment Layer) is similar to the Brush tool. As with brushes, the color black in a mask hides stuff; white makes it visible. And as I'll demonstrate later, gray partially hides a layer.
Here's where gradients differ though. You create one by click-dragging. A longer click+drag results in a more gradual transition, a shorter click-drag creates a more abrupt transition. To experiment with the Gradient tool I suggest creating a new, blank canvas (File>New) and drawing different gradients on the white Background layer. It’s a great way to make sense of this very useful tool.
Fujifilm has released a firmware update for its X-T30 midrange mirrorless camera. It tries to address one of the most frustrating things about the camera: how easy it is to accidentally press the Q.Menu button.
The new Photobooth mode uses AI to automatically detect the best moment to trigger the shutter during selfie capture.
Canon has released the latest firmware for its EOS R camera, bringing with it eye-detection autofocus in servo mode and other incremental updates.
World Press Photo has, for the first time ever, disinvited an award-winning photographer after reports of 'inappropriate behavior.'
AI super slow motion is a software-based method for generating super-slow-motion video from existing footage.
The 12th year of the World Photography Awards, in partnership with Sony, had a record-breaking number of entries. The winners have been revealed in this prestigious, global competition that gives burgeoning artists exposure and funding to develop personal projects.
For most of Managing Editor Allison Johnson's photography, smartphones have already replaced a traditional camera. But a recent trip reinforced a couple of key reasons why she's not ready to quite ready to leave the dedicated camera at home – yet.
In the final part of our beginners' guide to camera fundamentals, we look at the trade-offs you contend with when you choose a sensor size. We hope it helps you find the balance that works best for you.
The roof and spire of Notre Dame Cathedral were destroyed in a devastating fire this past Monday. Drone footage shows the extent of the damage done to the historic Parisian landmark.
Fujifilm's latest firmware update for its X-T3 camera includes an improved AF algorithm for enhanced face detection, better subject tracking and more.
Zhong Yi Optics has released its new Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm F0.95 III lens for Sony FE, Canon RF, and Nikon Z mount camera systems.
You can now see the artwork on your wall without the need to order it first.
Nikon's Z6 offers 24MP full-frame image quality in a tough and lightweight body. Photographer Diego Rizzo took a Z6 to Guatemala recently to shoot the Fuego volcano - watch our video to see how he got on.
The Fujifilm X-T30 is a $900 camera that's an incredibly capable stills/video hybrid. Image and 4K video quality are top-notch and, aside from some ergonomic and autofocus stumbles, the X-T30 does just about everything right. Learn more in our in-depth review.
In part two of our beginners' guides to the fundamentals of cameras, we're going to look at the benefits that a larger sensor can bring. Part three will look at the trade-offs that this brings.
The 2019 Pulitzer Prize photography award winners have been announced in the Breaking News and Feature Photography categories.
French analysts System Plus Consulting have torn down the Huawei P30 Pro and made some interesting findings.
The PhotoCross 15 is the third and largest backpack in ThinkTank's MindShift PhotoCross lineup, rounding out the PhotoCross 10 and 13 variations.
A Kickstarter campaign is aiming to raise funds for the production of an external smartphone flash.
This one-off paper camera makes for great photos, but won't be making any great photos.
In the first of a three-part beginners' guide, we're going to look at whether you need to worry about pixel size when choosing a camera. Parts two and three will look at the benefits of a larger sensor size, and the trade-offs you make.
Nikon's new Z 24-70mm F2.8 S promises a substantial size and weight reduction compared to its F-mount predecessor and a boost in optical quality. See how it performs in our sample gallery.
Self-taught programmer Martin Fitzpatrick has created a Raspberry Pi Zero-powered camera that uses a Pocket Etch-A-Sketch to 'print' the 240x144 pixel image.
Parrot has released an enterprise version of its Anafi drone that features an integrated FLIR thermal camera.
A recent patent application from Canon suggests future pop-up flashes on Canon cameras could have continuous lighting thanks to LEDs.
The Loupedeck+ customizable editing controller now supports Adobe's flagship audio editing program and Apple's professional video editing program.
We spoke to Shigemi Sugimoto, the head of Olympus's imaging division at the CP+ show in Yokohama. He talked to us about the appeal of Micro Four Thirds and gave some hints about the types of technology the company is looking at.
Samyang has announced a new trio of lenses that include an 85mm F1.4 lens for Nikon F-mount systems in addition to a 14mm F2.8 and 85mm F1.4 manual focus lenses for Nikon Z-mount camera systems.
Now that we've finished our full review of Canon's latest affordable full-framer, we've taken a look at how well (or not) it works for some common use-cases.
Andrew Saladino of 'The Royal Ocean Film Society' has shared a humorous, albeit completely fictional look at the history of the camera.