How to make sunset images more beautiful in Photoshop? (visual learning)

If you have a picture of a sunset scene and want to work on it professionally, Photoshop is probably the best option. In this article, you will learn this issue in a simple way.

Step 1: Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer

The recently opened image in Photoshop can be seen not only in the document window but also in the Layers panel. The Background layer is currently the only layer in the document:

The Layers panel in Photoshop showing the sunset photo on the Background layer

The Layers panel shows the sunset image in the Background layer.

To enhance the colors at sunset, adjust the image We will use Gradient Map. But applying a direct adjustment to the image will cause a permanent change in the original photo. To prevent permanent changes, we use the Gradient Map as an adjustment layer. Click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers panel.

Click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

This opens a list of Photoshop Fill and Adjustment layers. Select Gradient Map from the list

Choosing a Gradient Map adjustment layer.

Select a Gradient Map layer.

If we look at the Layers panel again, we see a new Gradient Map adjustment layer called “Gradient Map1” located at the top of the image on the Background layer. Because the adjustment layer is separate from the image itself, everything we do with the Gradient Map will not be permanent and the original image will always be secure:

The Layers panel now showing the Gradient Map adjustment layer.

The Layers panel shows the Gradient Map adjustment layer.

How the Gradient Map setting works

Adjusting the Photoshop Gradient Map takes its name from what it does, allowing us to assign different colors with different tonalities or to the image. For example, we can use a Gradient Map to assign one color to darker areas (shadows) and another to lighter (highlighted) areas. Or we can go one step further and draw a third color between the two colors. In fact, if we wanted to, we could turn the whole range of an image into a rainbow of colors! And because we work with Gradient Map, Photoshop creates soft, fuzzy tones between the colors we choose.

By default, Gradient Map uses your current foreground and background colors as the color gamut. If your foreground and background colors are set by default, black and white will be the background and foreground colors. This is almost the opposite of what we want for a sunset, so we’ll see how the color spectrum can be edited in an instant:

The image with the default Foreground to Background gradient map applied.

This image is set to the default black and white range.

Step 2 Click on the preview bar to Edit Gradient

Gradient graphic adjustment layer options can be found in the Photoshop Properties panel. Our horizontal preview bar shows the colors of the current spectrum. Click the preview bar to edit the color

Clicking on the gradient preview bar in the Properties panel

Click on the gradient preview bar in the Properties panel

Step 3: Change the gradient color to red on the left

Click on the preview bar to open the Gradient Editor. At the end of the Gradient Editor there is a larger gradient preview bar. Below each side of the preview bar is a small square with an arrow at the top. This is called a color step. We use these color stations to edit gradient colors. Let’s start by editing the color on the left. This is the color that is applied to the darkest tones of the image.

Editing the color on the left of the gradient in the Gradient Editor.

Double click on black.

This option opens Photoshop’s Color Picker where you can choose a different color. If you want to use the same shade of red that I use, choose bright red and saturated. Find the values ​​of R, G and B in the lower center of the Color Picker. “R” stands for Red, “G” for Green and “B” for Blue. Set the value of R to 240, the value of G to 15 and the value of B to 15. When done, click OK to close the color selection:

Choosing red for the left side of the gradient.

Select a bright red color from the color selection page.

We still have to change the top color range, so don’t close the Gradient Editor yet. If we look at our image, we see that darker colors now appear as different shades instead of black and red. You might think that bright red is a weird option for the darkest colors in the image. But do not worry, when we change the setting of the Gradient Map layer a bit, it darkens nicely:

The image after changing black in the gradient to red.

The image then changes from the darkest color to red.

Step 4 Change the Gradient color to yellow on the right

Now, let’s change the top color spectrum to yellow. In Gradient Editor, white is currently selected. Click on the Gradient at the bottom right

Double-clicking on the white color stop in the Gradient Editor

Double-click the white icon.

The Color Picker option opens again. To use the same shade of yellow that I use, this time choose bright and saturated yellow. Set the value of R to 245, the value of G to 220 and the value of B to 10. Click OK to close Color Picker at the end.

Choosing yellow for the right side of the gradient.

Select yellow for the right gradient

If we look at the preview bar of the gradient editor, we see that we now have a gradient that goes from red on the left to yellow on the right. And because Photoshop mixes these two colors, we also have a nice orange in the middle.

The Gradient Editor showing the new red to yellow gradient.

New red to yellow gradient with orange in the middle

We are editing gradient, so click OK to close the gradient editor. My image is displayed at this stage, with the darkest colors changing to red, the lightest tones to yellow, and the middle to orange. Of course, the colors do not blend in with the photo as they should, so we will correct it in the next step.

The image mapped to the red, orange and yellow gradient.

Image drawn with red, orange and yellow gradient.

Step 5 Change the combination mode from Gradient Map to Overlay

All we have to do now is mix the gradient colors with the image. We can do this by changing the composition of the Gradient Map adjustment layer. You will find the Blend Mode option at the top left of the Layers panel. By default, the blend mode is set to Normal. Click on the word “Normal” and change the blending mode to Overlay

Changing the blend mode of the Gradient Map adjustment layer to Overlay

Change the combination mode of the Gradient Map adjustment layer to Overlay

Photoshop blending mode increases the overall contrast in an image, making light areas dimmer and darker. It also increases color saturation. After changing the blend mode to Overlay, the reds, oranges, and yellows in the gradient now blend more naturally with the image. Reds are much darker now, yellows are much lighter, and a deep saturated orange warms the areas between them.

The image after changing the blend mode of the Gradient Map layer to Overlay.

Image after changing the combination mode from Gradient Map layer to Overlay

Step 6: Decrease the Opacity of the Gradient Map Layer

The only problem that remains is that the gradient colors look too intense. Let’s reduce their intensity so that the photo looks more like a sunset and less like the end of the world. All we have to do is reduce the opacity of the Gradient Map adjustment layer. You will find the Opacity option at the top right of the Layers panel, right next to the Blend Mode option. Decrease the opacity to find the settings that work best for you. I will reduce it to 50%.

Lowering the opacity of the adjustment layer.

Reduce the opacity of the adjustment layer.

before and after

Our job is done! To compare the advanced version of your sunset with the original photo, turn off the Gradient Map adjustment layer by clicking on the visibility icon in the Layers panel.

Clicking the visibility icon for the Gradient Map adjustment layer.

Click on the visibility icon for the adjustment layer.

When the adjustment layer is turned off, the Gradient Map effects are hidden and the original image reappears:

The original sunset photo for comparison

The original photo of the sunset with its dull and muted colors.

To view your modified version, turn the Gradient Map adjustment layer again by clicking on its display icon again (the empty box where the eye is located). And here, after reducing the blur to reduce the intensity of the colors, see the final result of the “Golden Sunset”.

The final enhanced sunset effect in Photoshop

Sunset photo after changes

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