A Gradient Filter on Your PC

Gradient filters see a lot of use in landscape photography, where they help add to pictures’ overall atmosphere. They can’t be perfectly replaced on a computer, but with a little clever work, you can definitely get attractive results.

The special thing about gradient filters is that they have differing densities or colors at their different ends, with a gradient leading between the two extremes. The filters are transparent at one end, becoming more and more opaque towards the other end. Or rather, they usually are. Some gradient filters are colored at the top and colorless at the bottom, or have different colors in each half, with a light, neutral gradient between them.

Perhaps the most common combination is the green-blue filter, which supports the green of the grass at the bottom, and the blue of the sky at the top. For landscape shots, a blue gradient filter is often used, to enhance the color of the sky only.

A Gradient Filter via Zoner Photo Studio

The Editor module in Zoner Photo Studio offers simulated gradient filters, and it’s worth checking out e.g. sky-and-grass coloring magic for yourself, if only because unlike a camera filter, these filters can be reversed if you need it. Also, with a little extra work, you can achieve effects that a camera filter never can.

To start working with the effect, activate the Gradient Filter tool. There are three ways you can do this: by clicking its icon on the toolbar along the left, by using the Layer menu’s Gradient Filter item, or by pressing F. When you activate this tool, the Options toolbar (the one that’s always changing) at the top of Zoner Photo Studio begins showing relevant controls, including gradient width, a color palette, and an eyedropper. Since the gradient filter uses Zoner Photo Studio’s “Editing Layer,” the Layer toolbar is available too. Use it to apply/cancel the filter and choose a Mode to set how it’s integrated into the picture.

This toolbar, like most sets of controls in Zoner Photo Studio, offers “presets”—savable and reloadable sets of settings. The presets here are a bit special, because there are some created here for you in advance, to give you easy access to the most popular gradients. Use the controls in the right part of the toolbar to work with presets.

The predefined filters, by the way, don’t really work ideally with the Multiply mode that is on when you first activate this tool. Switch the mode to Overlay, and your result will be much more realistic.


The Filter You Need

When you activate the gradient filter, the mouse cursor changes to a crosshairs. Click the picture, and the two axes of the gradient filter appear. The horizontal axis shows two guidepoints; use them to rotate the axis as needed.

The vertical axis includes a line pointing up. Opposite from the arrowhead is the base of the line. This axis also contains guidepoints. Use them to set the strength and length of the gradient: grab a point and drag it up or down. If you choose too narrow a gradient, you’ll probably see tangible striping at points in the transition axis, so keep the gradient as wide as you can.

To move the filter’s vertical dividing line up or down, move the mouse cursor over the gradient axis, so it turns into a four-arrow cross. Now grab the axis and move it up or down, as needed. The resulting gradient should be hard for your audience to notice directly, and it should feel natural, so invest the effort needed to adjust the axis until it’s right.

The last settings here—and they’re very important ones—are the filter’s opacity and the modein which the filter is applied. That’s because the gradient filter starts out as a temporary layer laid above the picture. Use the Opacity slider to set the filter intensity. Use the Mode dropdown list to specify the way the filter layer will be merged with the original picture. As mentioned earlier, for our purposes, we want the Overlay mode. The level of opacity is a matter of taste, but one general rule does apply: it should be below 100%, since otherwise the final picture won’t look natural.

Mix It Up

Naturally you can use the filter multiple times on one picture. In fact in some cases, to get what you want, you have to. Since the gradient filter in Zoner Photo Studio only works with single-color gradients, to emphasize both the blue sky and the green meadows for example, you have to apply one filter on top of another.

We did just that on the illustration above. A dark blue/light gray filter was used in the top part; a tobacco-colored filter was used in the opposite order in the bottom part, so the tobacco effect ran from the bottom upwards.

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Learn Photography: Brought to you by the team behind Zoner Photo Studio.

Comments (5)

  1. Are the preset filters only available in ZPS 18 or they in 17 as well, I use the GF a fair bit, but I do not have the presets, I use ZPS 17 Pro.

    1. These filters are in ZPS 17. The only difference in ZPS 18 is an exposure type of gradient filter, but it isn’t mentioned here, since the post was written for older version. If you need help with anything, write us to support@zoner.com.

  2. Interesting (as usual). Related to today’s article about Graduated Neutral Density Filters. I’ve been using GF for editing landscape photos, but i wasn’t aware that it was possible to mix up several filters.

    I have the same question as above : I use Zoner 17 pro and there are no presets and the presentation is different, too.

  3. Hi Andre,

    I’m afraid my teammate spoke perhaps a bit unclearly – the Gradient Filter tool has the same options in both version 17 and version 18. I’ve uploaded a (kind of amateurish) screenshot illustrating this to the following address:


    You’ll note that in ZPS17 I have the “Type” dropdown dropped down – this is where you pick between a color gradient and an exposure gradient (basically a software GNDC).

    The screenshots in this article, which was written in 2013, are from version 15, which was the current version at the time – and on top of that, the person doing the screenshots had the “Light” color theme active. Thus the presets and the different presentation. Presets for the Gradient Filter were dropped in version 16, as part a tradeoff that brought other benefits but didn’t jibe with these presets.

    The presets are easy to reproduce in versions 17 and 18, though – just pick equivalent colors and go.

    I’m definitely glad that the growing popularity of the Magazine plus the link in our recent article has brought readers to this one, though! Looks like we will want to write a new article to replace it in the future, showing how things look in version 18 or 19.

  4. OK and thanks. That puts things a bit clearer. In fact I saw the date but didn’t realize that in 2013 there couldn’t be a 17 (or 18) version of Zoner …
    I look forward to read any new article about different features of ZPS (some of these features being less evident)

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