Using Gradient Maps in Affinity Photo

Gradient Maps are used to replace or add to the tones of an image with a simplified range of colours. These are then blended together using a gradient. To keep things simple I’m only using two colours in the example below but you could expand this principle to get as creative & complex as you wish.

Load your photo into Affinity Photo and go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map Adjustment. The image will initially go all 1970’s “Dr. Who” in look! However, we’re not going to leave it like this (unless of course this is exactly the type of thing you were going for!) As we only want to deal with two colours click on the middle green dot & press the “Delete” key. The highlights are currently blue & the shadows are red so let’s switch this around by clicking “Reverse”.

Now it’s merely a case of choosing your colours. I wanted more of a pink than a red for the highlights. So click on the red dot & then the red coloured rectangle. From here I select “HSL Color Wheel” to choose my new colour but if you already have a particular one written down you could use the “RGB Sliders” menu. Now change the Blend Mode to “Soft Light” to soften the effects a little. Repeat this step to change the blue point as well if desired.

This could be all you require but I still found the change a little too extreme so I reduced the “Opacity” slider down to 32%.


Printing on Affinity Photo (for PC)

When printing photographs you can often find the resulting colours are not as vibrant as the ones seen on the monitor or, the image appears darker. This process will hopefully help to rectify this issue.

Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Soft Proof Adjustment

Pick the printer & type of paper you are printing on (in my case “Canon MG5200 series GL2/SG2” this is for glossy paper). The “Rendering Intent” box should read “Absolute Colourimetric” by default but it doesn’t hurt to check. You can now make adjustments to the image to try to bring it back to it’s original state making sure you work below the “Soft Proof Adjustment” layer.

Once complete go back to the soft proofing layer & tick the “Gamut Check” box. You may now see parts of the image greyed out. These areas are outside the gamut range & will not be reproduced accurately by the printer. To remedy this, open a curves adjustment layer Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves Adjustment. Drag the bottom node up vertically until the majority of the grey disappears. You can add additional nodes to bring some of the punch back to the photo. In addition, add an “HSL Adjustment Layer” & work on the individual colours to eliminate any remaining grey spots if necessary. Untick the “Gamut Check” box once you’re finished. Don’t forget to also untick or delete the “Soft Proof Layer” before printing as it is an adjustment layer & does affect the image.

Layer>Merge Visible to create a flattened layer.

File>Print & go to “Properties” to open the printer dialogue box. Here you can set it to “Photo Printing”, set the paper size, print quality, type of paper etc. Next tick the “Colour/Intensity Manual Adjustment” box & under “Matching” set it to “None”. Now click OK.

Back to the Affinity print dialogue box & go to the bottom left corner. Click on “Colour Management”. “Colour Handling” should read “Performed by App” & the “Printer Profile” should be the same as you selected before ie. “Canon MG5200 GL2/SG2”.

Finally click “OK”.

Hopefully at the end of all this you should produce prints that more accurately represent what you see on the screen. If you’re still having problems try calibrating your monitor to D50 or D55 screen calibration preset as opposed to sRGB.



Using Unsharp Mask in Affinity

OK it’s time to get my head around sharpening once & for all! It’s something I naturally use at the end of editing every photo but I’ve never really understood what the three elements of “Unsharp Mask” did.

Radius. This controls how many pixels adjacent to the edges are sharpened (sharpening works by the software increasing the contrast along the edges of objects within the image). A small radius enhances smaller scale details eg. stray hairs, eyelashes etc. Usually a setting of 0.6 to 2.5 is used. Setting too high a radius can create unwanted halos around objects.

Factor. This affects the strength of the sharpening (how much darker & how much lighter the edges become).

Threshold. This controls how far apart adjacent tonal values have to be before they are considered an edge ie. before any action is taken. Low values should sharpen more because fewer areas are excluded. Therefore, for human faces for example, higher values should be selected whereas, inanimate objects such as still life images can take a lower value.

When using Affinity Photo always apply sharpening non destructively via the Live Unsharp Mask filter, Layer>New Live Filter Layer>Unsharp Mask Filter. By doing this not only can you switch this layer on & off to see what affect the sharpening has on your image but you can also come back to tweek your settings at a later date.

Using a small radius (eg. 0.5) & a large factor (eg. 3.5) will accentuate more of the finer details eg. the brickwork on a building. Using a large radius (4.0) & a smaller factor (1.0) accentuates the larger details & acts in a similar way to a clarity filter. For portraits or images of low contrast eg. skin, increase the Threshold slider gradually to prevent artefacts from being enhanced in these areas.

Concert photography

Solo female country artist, singer & pianist

f/1.8, 1/200 second, ISO 1600, 50mm prime


I was backstage during a theatre show recently & took the opportunity to snap a few photographs of the performers. Admittedly, being in the wings & taking images side on to the musicians didn’t always produce very flattering results (especially when they were down stage) but I quite liked the shot above.

I’d done some research beforehand & discovered concert photography isn’t without its problems. Most experts recommend using a fast lens, wide open in order to get the best results. In my case, this was a 50mm prime at f/1.8. Having said that, I didn’t use my camera on aperture priority mode (Av) as I was concerned about motion blur. Instead I set it on shutter priority (Tv) at a speed of 1/200. The camera then selected f/1.8 itself. The next issue I faced was setting an ISO high enough to facilitate well exposed images. I began at ISO 3200 but soon noticed ISO 1600 provided adequate results due to the stage lighting at the time. Obviously this would create quite a bit of noise in my images but I could address this later in post processing (I was shooting in RAW naturally). I have subsequently tried taking similar shots at other venues with the ISO set to AUTO & the camera has chosen settings between 2500 & 4000. I’m not yet sure whether this is a better way to go. Finally as far as the settings go, I was using spot metering with the central focus point selected & AI Servo mode.

I still have a lot to learn about this style of photography. Some people recommend using evaluative metering. Others suggest putting the camera in manual mode for greater flexibility. Continuous burst mode is another widely offered tip. I guess I’ll just keep trying things out.

Lego Stormtrooper patrol on Hoth

Lego Stormtrooper patrol on the ice planet Hoth, Star Wars

I first thought of the idea for this photo over two years ago but you know how it goes. Other images take precedence (especially ones that don’t require as much time to set up!), you temporarily forget about it, life in general etc.  However, I found myself at a loose end one evening last week & I thought “Hey! Let’s give it a go!”

I began by taping 6 sheets of white, A4 paper together & placing them on a table. This was to create a basic white base (if you had a larger piece of paper or white foam board then obviously this would work just as well). At the back I stood two pieces of black, A4 card on their end to help create a dark backdrop (the cereal boxes were just a handy aid seeing as I was in the kitchen!) I arranged the stormtroopers on the base & stuck each of them down with a tiny piece of blu tack to prevent them from falling over mid shot. A quick scout on the internet had brought up baking powder as the most popular material to use as snow in this type of scaled down imaged. As you can see from below, you don’t need to cover the entire base. Keep checking the live view on your camera to see any bare sections that require attention. For future reference, this was two 170g packets of baking powder. A useful tip when applying the baking powder is to roughly sprinkle it into hills & shapes first, then sieve some additional powder over the top to create a fine top layer which looks more realistic.

Stormtrooopers on Hoth set up.
Set up for Stormtrooper patrol on Hoth image.

For the planet/moon (“That’s no moon!”) I took a piece of kitchen foil & loosely crumpled it into a ball before carefully unfolding it & wrapping it around a small, plastic, side plate. As I knew the top of the planet wasn’t going to be in shot I merely held it with one hand while shining a small, LED pocket torch at it with the other. This was the only light source used (the room being completely dark) although I also had a white reflector just below the camera to bounce some of the light back onto the front of the mini figures. As for camera settings, the camera was in Aperture Priority mode in order for me to choose the depth of field I wanted & the resulting exposure was 1.3 seconds. It goes without saying the camera was on a tripod. I also set the shutter release to a 10 second delay seeing as both hands were occupied operating the torch & holding the moon.

Post production was fairly brief. A slight white balance adjustment to create a cooler look. A hue/saturation tweak to the blue channel and a brightness & contrast adjustment. Finally a little sharpening to finish it all off.

Sharpening using the High Pass Filter

To sharpen an image in Photoshop Elements I usually turn to “Unsharp Mask” (I had previously used “Adjust Sharpness”). However, I recently discovered an alternative method using the High Pass Filter. Now I have to confess I’m not sure if one is better than the other or whether they are merely three different ways of obtaining the same result. Having said that, from what I can gather the “High Pass” option appears to be primarily used on examples of highly textured images such as, animal fur.

The whole sharpening process works by the software increasing the contrast along the edges of objects within an image. Of course, Elements can’t recognise individual objects so it looks for areas where there is a sudden change in brightness or colour between neighbouring pixels. Our brains interpret this increased contrast as being “sharper”.

There are several methods on the internet of how to use the high pass filter. Some convert the image to a “smart object” first, others head straight for the filter menu. The one described below uses the latter. (As usual, sharpening should occur after you’ve completed all your other processes).

Duplicate the layer “Ctrl+J”. At this stage opinions seem to differ. One method desaturates the image “Shift +Ctrl +U” first. Filter>Other>High Pass. Set the “Radius” to somewhere between 0.5 – 5.0 pixels. Not too much or you will end up with additional noise in the image (if you see any white on the grey screen you’ve gone too far & will get halos). Click “OK”. Change the blend mode to “Overlay” although “Soft Light” (slightly less) & “Hard Light” (slightly harsher) are also viable options. The second method doesn’t bother to desaturate the image & sets the blend mode at the start. This way you can view how the image changes as you increase the radius size.

Once complete, if you feel the effect is too strong, lower the opacity. Alternatively, you can duplicate this layer to increase the effect. If you find the image looks good in some areas but not others use layer masks to apply the sharpening more selectively.

Colour grading – Natural light effect

This is a 4 step process to achieve a natural light, colour grading effect on your images.

  1. Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Take the saturation down. Not too much unless you’re looking for a really dramatic effect (which is fine for some studio portraits but not for a “natural” look). About -15 to -20 is a good range.
  2. Curves. We’re going to colour the image using the individual red, green & blue curves. Being subtle is the key here. Maybe bring out the red in the highlights & slight ‘S’ curves in the green & blue but it can vary according to ones individual opinion.
  3. Levels. On the blue channel draw in the triangular markers slightly to bring back some blue in the shadows & reduce it in the highlights to bring back some warmth.
  4. Colour fill layer. Add a new solid colour fill layer & choose a gold colour (eg. d0a702). Change the blend mode to “hard light” & bring the opacity down to about 8%.

As ever, the final step is to sharpen the image using whatever sharpening method you prefer (unsharp mask, adjust sharpness, high pass filter etc.) The above image displays the before & after photographs.

Faking snow in Photoshop Elements

Photoshop snow image of a Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia

To superimpose falling snow on a scene in Photoshop Elements is fairly straight forward. However, I don’t think the effect works equally well on all images. Ones that include highlight & shadow areas appear to be the best but a little trial & error is probably recommended.

First, we need to resize the image (this is important for the snowflake size later). Image>Resize>Image Size & set the resolution to 72ppi. Make sure the “Constrain Proportions” & “Resample Image” boxes are ticked.

Create a new layer (Layer>New>Layer or the “New layer” button) then Edit>Fill Layer & set the “Contents” to black with 100% opacity.

Filter>Noise>Add Noise tick “Gaussian” at 100% & make sure “Monochromatic” is ticked also.

Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur & set the radius to 1.0 pixels.

Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels set the slider input levels to 140 low & 142 high.

Change the blend mode to “Screen” & adjust the opacity to make the effect look convincing.

Now copy that layer (Ctrl + J) & put the blend mode back to “Normal”. Image>Transform>Free Transform, grab the bottom circle & rotate the whole image 180 degrees. Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur & set the radius to 0.5 pixels. Change the blending mode back to “Screen” & reduce the opacity. Make sure the opacity of this layer is lower than the previous one. This will add some depth to the snow effect. You could repeat this previous step again (reducing the pixel radius further & lowering the opacity) as many times as you wish. It all depends upon the look you’re trying to replicate (blizzard white out or casual snow fall).

Depending on the original image you may need to alter the opacity of the two snow layers accordingly to make the effect realistic. The end result may also benefit from adjusting the “Hue/Saturation” of the original image after you’ve resized it to give it more of a winter feel (eg. lowering the hue & saturation, slightly increasing the lightness etc.) but this will vary from one project to the next.

Original image.
Photoshop snow effect


Early attempt at ICM

Intentional camera movement image of Ayr beach

There are lots of things I’m not sure about with this ICM (intentional camera movement) image. For instance, I’m not sure I panned quickly enough when taking it. I’m not sure taking it handheld as opposed to using a tripod is the correct technique to follow. I’m not even sure I like the effect when I’ve viewed similar photographs taken by professionals! But it’s always good to experiment with new techniques & try different photographic styles.

Settings: f/25, 0.30 sec, ISO 100, 30mm focal length

Christmas with a Lensbaby

Snow White ornament, Lensbaby, bokeh, Christmas

I have always been a fan of the selective focus images created by a Lensbaby. However, even the cheaper Edge model is a little out of my price range for what is essentially a creative lens & not one I would necessarily use everyday. I purchased the Spark a year ago but have found it somewhat awkward to operate & certainly tricky to achieve consistent results. Consequently, I recently bought a second hand Composer (it’s the model with the interchangeable, magnetic aperture rings) & have been experimenting with it ever since.

Now I realise you can achieve the effect generated by these lenses through Photoshop or other similar post production software & believe me, I’m not one of those photographers who obsesses about getting everything right “in camera”. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to composition I put a lot of thought into getting it right before I press the shutter but once I download the results, I’d only be fooling myself if I said they didn’t benefit from a little curves adjustment, hue/saturation layer tweaking & a touch of sharpening before being finished. However, there is something much more creative & certainly enjoyable watching the focus point change on the back of the camera before pressing the shutter as opposed to doing it later.

The festive photograph above seemed to lend itself well to a Lensbaby. Focusing on Snow’s face while having Father Christmas blurred yet still distinguishable in the background seemed to add to the festive spirit.