Sometimes a photograph, by itself, just doesn’t do enough for a design project. Maybe the image is too busy or not busy enough or . . . who knows? Any number of aspects might not be working. But, before you abandon your idea entirely, consider blending color and black-and-white versions of your image together, for a nice throwback vibe. Here’s a quick way to do it in Adobe Photoshop.
Step 1 — Duplicate Your Layer
Open the image in which you want to apply this effect in Photoshop. Click the lock icon on your layer in the layer window, to unlock it. Then, right-click the layer and select “Duplicate.” (Or, in the main menu bar, navigate to Layer > “Duplicate Layer . . .”)
Step 2 — Rename Layers
Rename your layers by double-clicking their names in the layer window. The first layer defaults to “Layer 0”. The second (after duplicating the first) to “Layer 0 copy.” This is unhelpful, to say the least. And renaming is a good practice to get into, especially as you move on to more complicated projects, with multiple layers and groups of layers. Not only will this help you maintain your own sanity, if you ever need to hand your project off to another designer, a logical naming system will make everyone’s lives easier.
Let’s just go with “color” for the bottom layer, and “black-and-white” for the top.
Step 3 — Desaturate the Black-and-White Layer
We need to get the color out of the black-and-white layer. The easiest way to do this is through the Image menu. First, make sure you select the black-and-white layer by clicking on it. Then, navigate to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.
Now, your project should look something like this.
Step 4 — Create a Gradient Layer
We’re going to create the gradient layer by choosing Layer > “New Layer. . .” Name it “gradient.” Make sure you have this layer selected, by clicking on it in the layer window. Next, select your color picker from the left-hand side of the screen.
Click on the top left of the two small squares (yours may be a different default color). This is the foreground color picker. Pick a color that will be easy for you to see and work with. I chose this green. (You can see its six-character, hex color code at the bottom of this screen shot, if you want to match my selection exactly.)
With your gradient layer still selected, we’re going to create our gradient. Click on the gradient tool, and at the top of your screen, click on the gradient menu.
Select “foreground to transparent” (you can see the descriptions of the thumbnail options by hovering your mouse over each).
Make sure your gradient layer is selected, then click on the left side of your image and drag all the way across to the right. When you let go, your screen should look something like this.
Step 5 — Create a Clipping Mask
In the layer window, click and drag your gradient layer underneath your black-and-white layer. Right-click on the black-and-white layer and select “Create Clipping Mask.” Et voilà! Now you can see the full effect. Save this project as a .psd file, then merge your layers and save the image in whatever format you need.
You can also play around with different gradient shapes (like the radial gradient), as well as, different beginning and end points for your gradient to create different coverage effects.