How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Gradient Filter functions are generally used for darkening or coloring the top of a photo—usually the sky. They basically replace a physical gradient filter that you’d place over your camera’s lens. But the Gradient Filter in ZPS X is also highly customizable and offers lots of creative opportunities.

Besides the physical gradient filters out there, there are “virtual” ones too. And Zoner Photo Studio has this filter on offer—in the Editor and Develop. I recommend that you use it in the Develop module. That way you can use it non-destructively and even put it to work on RAW files.

The Basic Settings

First activate the Gradient Filter  (G) itself. Then if you want to adjust the sky at the top of a photo—the most common use—click into that photo and drag upwards. The farther up you drag, the more gradual the gradient will be, and vice-versa. You can also fine-tune the gradient using the Gradient Width setting. Occasionally you’ll find you need to turn this filter inside-out; use Invert Mask for that. 

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Activating the Gradient Filter and getting started.

The Gradient Filter is very customizable, with eight different settings. Besides just lightening or darkening part of a picture, it can also affect contrast, sharpen, or for example adjust light or dark tones only. You can also  tint it towards a specific color.

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

The new Gradient Filter settings.

Adding Color to Evening Clouds

The evening sky is usually quite attractively tinted. You can amplify this even further by applying the Gradient Filter and emphasizing colors using the saturation and contrast settings. 

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Coloring the sky.

Highlighting the Stars

To highlight a starry sky, use the Clarity and Sharpness settings. You’ll find these settings in many other places than just the Gradient Filter, but when you need to highlight just one area in a photo, for example the starry part of the sky, the Gradient Filter is the ideal choice.

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Highlighting stars

Enhancing a Sun/Shade Boundary

Often in summer photos you’ll encounter situations where the sun is shining directly on one part of a photo while the rest is in shadow. That can leave one part overexposed or the other part underexposed. If a solid line leads between the two parts, you can fix this with the Gradient Filter. 

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Darkening the overexposed upper part of this photo.

Using Multiple Filters at Once

In this photo, it would be useful to darken the sky a little more. You can apply several filters at once by clicking Add Filter. In this example here, the second filter will only darken a small part of the sky at the top. To see a listing of all the filters in use, check the table towards the top of the Side Panel.

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Two gradient filters used on a single photo.

Tinting Just One Area in a Photo

You can also use the gradient filter to tint just part of a picture. It’s all up to you and your creativity. Use the Color setting for this; they’re in the bottom part of the Gradient Filter’s settings. You can get attractive vintage colors by using a shade of violet in the section called Exclude. For this trick, you might want to also read up on Blending Modes.

How to Use the Gradient Filter to Improve Your Photos

Tinting a picture.

A Practical Timesaver

I actually prefer software gradient filters, because when I’m taking a picture, there often isn’t time for me to mount anything onto my camera. And if I’m shooting to RAW, I don’t have to worry about the filter hurting picture quality, as there’s always enough data to spare.

Download Zoner Photo Studio X, and you can try out local edits with the Gradient Filter today. 

Last updated 14. October 2019

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Author: Matej Liska

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