How to use the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo

by Jul 14, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to use the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo

Recently I received an email asking how to use the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo. Although the Affinity Develop Persona has a Gradient Overlay tool you can use to make selective adjustments, can be useful to do the same in the Photo Persona. Sometimes you find that after working on an image in the Photo Persona that the exposure isn’t quite balanced. That usually isn’t the time that you want to drop back into the Develop Persona. Being able to use the Gradient Tool in the Affinity Photo Persona can be a valuable alternative.

In this tutorial I’ll be explaining how to:

  1. Use the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo.
  2. Apply the Gradient Tool to reproduce a Graduated Neutral Density Filter effect.
  3. Use the same technique with the Gradient Tool to control the colour hue of your image.

To demonstrate these points, we’ll be using this landscape photo.

Starting image before using the Affinity Photo Gradient Tool

Despite using a Graduated ND filter when I shot this, the sky is too light compared to the dark, wet rock of the foreground. The colours in the image would benefit from some adjustment and I can address both problems using the Gradient Tool.

Using Blending Modes with the Gradient Tool

We use the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo to draw a gradient using two or more colours of our choice. This alone doesn’t have much value in terms of photo editing. But if we combine it with the power of Blending Modes it’s a different story.

Blending Modes are used in lots of applications, including Affinity Photo. They control how the contents of a layer blend with the layers below it to produce an effect. We can see how some of the Blending Modes work in Affinity Photo if we add a new Fill Layer to our image. You can do this in the Layer menu by selecting the “New Fill Layer” option.

After adding the Fill Layer, the new layer should appear in the Layers Studio Panel (number 1). The Gradient Tool is also activated in the Affinity Photo Tools Palette (number 2).

Adding a new Fill layer in Affinity Photo

After adding a Fill Layer, the image is probably filed with a solid colour. You can control the colour used by clicking the colour swatch (number 3) to select the colour.

In this example I have selected white for the fill to illustrate an important point about Blending Modes. After setting the fill colour to white, change the Fill Layer Blending Mode to Multiply in the Layers Studio Panel. You should then see the Fill Layer vanish. That’s because white is what we call the neutral colour for the Multiply Blending Mode.

You will see the same behaviour with the other Blending Modes that darken an image. These are all grouped together in the top section of the Blending Mode dropdown.

If we now change the fill colour to a darker grey rather than white, it will darken the image. The darker the grey we use, the darker the image becomes.  Then if we use black for the fill, it turns the image black. We can use this information about the Blending Mode to create our graduate.

Temporarily change the Blending Mode for the layer back to Normal. This will help you see what’s happening when you draw the gradient.

Configuring the Gradient Tool

Before we draw our gradient, we need to configure the Gradient Tool. We do this using the controls in Affinity Photo’s context sensitive toolbar.

Configuring the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo

First check the Context setting is set to Fill (1). This ensures the layer is filled with coloured pixels when we draw it.

Next, select the type of gradient to draw using the Type dropdown (2). As we are creating a graduated filter effect, we want to select the Linear option.

Finally, we should configure the gradient colour. We do this by clicking the colour swatch (3) and in the dialog selecting the “Gradient” tab.

In the gradient tab we see a gradient designer along the top. This has a circle or stop at each end which we can click to select. It’s then possible to change the colour of that point by clicking the Colour swatch in the dialog. After that. Click the stop point at the other end of the gradient and set that colour. The gradient then uses these two colours.

For this example, we will use a dark grey colour at the start (left stop point). A good starting point is a colour that has a value of 50 in all three colour channels (red, green, and blue). The other end of the gradient (right tab stop) is then set to white. After this, draw the gradient on the Fill Layer.

Drawing the Graient with the Gradient Tool

After drawing a gradient with the Gradient Tool, change the Fill Layer Blending Mode to Multiply. The layer will then vanish again but this time the top part of the image will become darker.

Adjusting the Gradient

When you drew your gradient, you probably drew it in the wrong place because you couldn’t see the image. Fortunately, we can continue to adjust the gradient after we’ve drawn it.

To adjust the position and angle of the gradient you can click and drag the end points using your mouse. It’s also possible to click and drag the centre marker on the gradient line to control the blended area of the gradient.

To change the colour of the gradient, click the end point of the gradient to select it. Then in the Colour Studio Panel you can use the colour controls. Because we are using a grey gradient, it may be best to change the colour panel to “Greyscale” if it isn’t already showing this. You can do this using the controls dropdown in the panel.

Colour Studio Panel in Affinity Photo

When you move the Greyscale slider left and right you change the grey shade of the gradient. As you do this you will see the image respond to the change.

Improving the Results

With the settings we’ve used for this example you will probably find the results aren’t particularly good. Fortunately, we can improve them by changing a few settings which provide a lot of control.

The first thing to change is the Blending Mode. Rather than using Multiply, change the gradient Fill Layer to “Colour Burn”. This won’t just darken the image; it will also intensify the colours.

Setting the Gradient to the Colour Burn Blending Mode

With the layer and settings at full strength the effect looks terrible. We can easily improve it though by changing the Opacity of the layer. At 50% Opacity you will see the detail return to the clouds, but they may also look a little flat. A great way to fix this is by using the Blending Ranges controls on the layer.

Layer Blending Ranges

Blending Ranges allow us to control how the gradient layer blends with the layers below it in the image. We can access the controls by clicking the cog icon in the top right of the Layers Studio Panel.

Layers Studio Panel with Blending Ranges icon

Clicking the cog icon opens the Blending dialog. Here we can control the blending based on how light or dark the layer pixels are.

Blending Ranges dialog

In this screenshot I’ve reduced the blending of blacks to 0% by dragging the curve point on the left to the bottom of the grid. I’ve then added other points along the line to control the effect.

Blending Ranges are an extremely powerful editing tool. To understand more about how they work, see my Blending Ranges tutorial or my book Affinity Photo How To.

Controlling Gradient Colour

The other control we have at our disposal to improve the result is the gradient colour. So far, we have been using a dark grey colour for the gradient, but you may find a lighter grey works better. With your gradient in place on the Fill Layer, it’s extremely easy to select the starting colour and adjust it as described above.

A useful alternative to this is to change the grey to a different colour. We can do this by selecting the gradient points and adjusting the colour in the Colour Studio Panel. This time rather than using the Greyscale control we can use the RGB controls.

Changing the colour of the gradient

The RGB controls allow us to adjust the proportion of red, green, and blue in the colour. Previously the three controls were all set to the same value to produce grey. But now if we adjust the proportions of the colours, we change the hue. This in turn creates a colour shift in the image.

In the illustration above you can see the proportion of Red has increased which intensifies red in the image. At the same time the level of blue has reduced, moving the image towards yellow. You can see the effect on the image below.

before and after example using the gradient tool

The original image is on the left, whilst the adjusted image using the gradient is on the right.

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Summary of Using the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo

In this article we’ve looked at how to draw and adjust a gradient using the Gradient Tool in Affinity Photo. We’ve also looked at one way of using the Gradient Tool to create a darker and more intense sky in a landscape photo. This was made possible using Blending Modes which you can learn more about in my book Affinity Photo How To.

It’s possible to control the results of this technique by adjusting the colour of the gradient, the Opacity of the layer and using the Blending Ranges control. Combine these adjustments and you will achieve a high degree of control in Affinity Photo, allowing you to produce more dramatic and colour photography.

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