Create super-charged sunsets in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo tutorial
(Image credit: James Paterson)

Watch video: Super-charge sunsets in Affinity Photo

Have you ever returned from shooting a stunning sunset only to find your photos look slightly underwhelming? Those reds, yellows and oranges in the sky that seemed so bold at the time can occasionally come out rather dull. But with a few simple tweaks we can boost the sky, enhance the tones and produce an image that looks exactly how you remember it the day it was shot.

Affinity Photo has lots of colour boosting tools to choose from. In this tutorial, we’re going to use a neat trick that involves the Channel Mixer adjustment. As the name suggests, this useful tool lets us mix our red, green and blue colour channels. 

Each pixel in our image is initially made up of a specific value for red, green and blue, on a scale from 0-255. By adjusting the Channel Mixer we can change the values and shift the colours one way or another.

As such, the Channel Mixer can do wonders for your sunrise and sunset photos, as it focuses on and boosts the colour ranges that appear in the sky, resulting in lush warm tones. What’s more, because the effect sits on its own layer, we have the freedom to change the strength at any time, either by duplicating the layer to make it stronger, or reducing the layer opacity to make it weaker. 

If we want, we can also make it work selectively over the sky by using a layer mask, which is useful here both for reducing the effect in over-saturated clouds and increasing it in the waves.

Here’s how to use this non-destructive method to super-charge a sunset image.

Read more:

• Affinity Photo 1.8 review

Step 1: Enhance the reds

You can click on the gadget in the top right corner of these screenshots to zoom in on a full size version. (Image credit: James Paterson)

Open the sunset image into Affinity Photo and click the Photo Persona (top right). Go to the Layers panel, click the Adjustment icon at the bottom and choose Channel Mixer. Make sure Output Channel is Red, then set Red +200, Green -50, Blue -50. This boosts the reds.

Step 2: Set the blues

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Next, go to the Output Channel dropdown and choose Blue. Set Blue +200, Red -50, Green -50. This adds a warm orange tone to the colours. If it’s not quite right for your image you can experiment with slightly different values. Just ensure the combined total of the three channels equals +100.

Step 3: Lower the opacity

(Image credit: James Paterson)

The initial effect is a bit strong, but we can tone it down. Go to the Layers panel and lower the opacity to around 80%. The boost in saturation can cause colours to blow out, resulting in a loss of detail. We can tone it down with a mask. Click the Layer Mask icon in the Layers panel.

Step 4: Tone down the clouds

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Next, grab the Brush tool from the toolbar (or hit B), then press D to set the primary colour to black, and press 3 to set the brush opacity to 30%. Zoom in to the clouds and then paint to selectively hide the effect in parts where it works too strongly over the colours. Use the ] and [ keys to resize your brush tip as you paint.

Step 5: Boost the waves

(Image credit: James Paterson)

We’d like the colours to be slightly bolder over the water. We can duplicate the Channel Mixer layer with Cmd/Ctrl+J, then right-click the layer mask and Delete. Next, hold Alt and click the Layer Mask icon to add a full mask instead. This time, switch the primary colour to white and paint to reveal the effect over the waves.

Step 6: Make a preset

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Double-click the thumbnail on either of your Channel Mixer layers to re-enter the settings. Click the Add Preset button at the top and give your preset a name. Click OK. You’ll find your saved preset in the Adjustment Panel under Channel Mixer, ready to be used again.  

Quick tip

One method of making local enhancements to specific areas is with adjustment layers and masks. An adjustment layer works by affecting all the layers below it. It also gives the freedom to add a layer mask; we can then paint with black over the image to hide the effect in areas, or fill the mask with black to completely hide it, then paint white to reveal the boost in areas we want.

About N-Photo magazine

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James Paterson

The lead technique writer on Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, James is a fantastic general practice photographer with an enviable array of skills across every genre of photography. 

Whether it's flash photography techniques like stroboscopic portraits, astrophotography projects like photographing the Northern Lights, or turning sound into art by making paint dance on a set of speakers, James' tutorials and projects are as creative as they are enjoyable. 

As the editor of Practical Photoshop magazine, he's also a wizard at the dark arts of Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity, and is capable of some genuine black magic in the digital darkroom, making him one of the leading authorities on photo editing software and techniques.