Photography • How-To How to Make a Gradient Overlay in Adobe Photoshop

Create a gradient overlay for a photo silhouette.

Lidia Lukianova creates an artistic color design for a photo silhouette. See how she adds a gradient overlay to a black-and-white photo in Adobe Photoshop.

Headshot of Lidia Lukianova

Lidia Lukianova is an artist and designer with a passion for illustration. Her design work includes all kinds of projects from identity and illustration to lettering and animation.

Black and white photo of a model whose face is in shadow with a colorful gradient design on her dress

Take a one-minute look at Lukianova’s technique; the steps are written out below.

Before You Start

Use this sample image if you’d like, or practice with your own.

Step 1: Start with Contrast

This technique works best on high-contrast photos, so Lukianova applied the effect to this black-and-white photo. She then chose the Magic Wand (W) and clicked to select the black dress.

Black & white photo of model shows marching ants selection around the black dress and Magic Wand tool highlighted on the left

Step 2: Colorize a Selection

Next, she added a Gradient adjustment layer.

Black & white photo of model shows Layers panel with Adjustment layer icon highlighted and Gradient selected

Step 3: Choose Your Palette

Lukianova then reviewed the available gradient presets before choosing the one she liked. She ultimately chose one of the orange-to-purple presets from the Reds category on the Gradient Fill dialog and clicked OK.

Photo of model shows orange, pink, and purple gradient over her dress; Gradient Fill dialog shows the gradient selected

Step 4: Make It Your Own

She wanted to customize the gradient, so she double-clicked the Gradient preview to open the Gradient Editor.

Photo of model shows orange, pink, and purple gradient over dress; Gradient Fill dialog has the Gradient thumbnail selected

Step 5: See It Through

To add transparency to the top color, Lukianova clicked the Opacity stop and lowered the Opacity.

Photo of model with gradient pattern over dress is behind Gradient Editor dialog with Opacity at 24%

Step 6: Make a Smooth Transition

Lukianova was able to create a smooth gradient by moving the color stops and Color Midpoints to get the look she wanted. She clicked OK when she was happy with the results.

Photo of model with gradient pattern on dress is behind Gradient Editor dialog with 2 color stops and 1 midpoint highlighted

Step 7: Refine the Edges

The Gradient Fill adjustment created a layer mask above the model layer, filling the selected area of the photo with the color gradient. Lukianova wanted to refine the edges of the mask, so she clicked the mask thumb of the Gradient Fill in the Layers (Window > Layers) panel. Then she chose the Brush (B) tool, set it to a soft round edge and painted with black to reveal the top part of the dress. She refined the edge of the selection using a smaller brush and painted with a white brush on the mask to reveal parts of the gradient she accidentally hid.

Photo of model shows brush indicator on right shoulder, layer mask thumbnail selected on Layers panel, brush is set to white

Step 8: Color Grade the Composition

For a subtle color correction, Lukianova added a solid purple color adjustment layer over the image, clicked OK, and lowered the Opacity for the new adjustment layer.

Photo of model has gradient pattern on dress & Layers panel has light purple solid color layer adjustment set to 7% opacity

Design Your Look

Apply colorful gradients for your high-contrast photos to create a portfolio that is sure to get noticed.

Final photo of model with gradient pattern on dress is displayed on a white marble background

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

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