What is Split Toning using Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop

In a previous episode, I showed you how I developed the photographs I captured along the wild coast of the Scottish Borders. One of the techniques I used was Split Toning in Adobe Lightroom and here we are going to learn about it in detail.

What is Split Toning?

Split Toning is the ability to apply a different colour tone specifically to the highlights or to the shadows or both. The idea of “Split” comes from the fact that while you can apply the same colour tone to both the highlights and the shadows, you can use two different colour tone like in the images below. This can be easily achieved in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.
3 photos edited with Split Toning in Adobe Lightroom
3 photos edited with Split Toning in Adobe Lightroom

Split Toning using Adobe Lightroom

You can find the Split Toning panel in the Develop module inside Lightroom. While being a very powerful tool, the functions are rather self-explicit.
The Split Toning panel in Adobe Lightroom
The Split Toning panel in Adobe Lightroom

The Split Toning panel and its functions

The panel is divided into three horizontal sections:
  • The Highlights: The changes made in that section only affects the bright tones in the image.
  • The Shadows: The changes made in that section only affects the dark tones in the image.
  • The Balance: This section consists of a cursor that regulates the ratio of bright and dark colour toning. To reduce the colour toning of the shadows, move the slider towards the right and to reduce the colour toning of the highlights move it to the left.
You find the Hue and Saturation cursors in both the Highlights and the Shadows sections. While the Hue slider enables you to define a colour tone to apply to each section, the Saturation slider sets the saturation level of that specified tone.

All roads lead to Rome

As often, there are many ways to achieve the same result in Adobe Lightroom. With regards to the Split Toning panel, you can define your colour tone in three ways:
  • Move the Hue cursor from left to right.
  • Click and hold on the value field while moving left and right to change the value (from 0 to 360).
  • Reveal the colour tone picker panel by clicking in the little grey rectangle on the right. This is my preferred method because it enables me to not only preview the colour tone effect but I can set its saturation level. No need to use the Hue and Saturation cursors.
The colour tone picker is the most useful way to set the Hue and Saturation
The colour tone picker is the most useful way to set the Hue and Saturation

Tip of the day

When moving the Hue slider you may notice that nothing changes in your image until the Saturation is defined (1 to 100%). So a quick way to visualise which colour tone works for your image, you can press and hold the Option [Mac] or Alt [Windows] key while moving the Hue cursor. This will show reveal the colour tone effect onto your image as if the saturation was set to 100. While being useful, you will still need to set the Saturation afterwards.

Split Toning using Adobe Photoshop

While using the Split Toning panel in Adobe Lightroom is very easy, some may prefer editing their images in Photoshop. Here is the easiest way to achieve this. Firstly, let’s look at your starting point.

The Split Toning panel

It is no secret that Lightroom’s Develop module is a polished Camera Raw which is the image engine behind Photoshop. Hence it won’t surprise you to learn that Camera Raw has the same Split Toning panel mentioned above.
The Split Toning panel in Adobe Photoshop
The Split Toning panel in Adobe Photoshop

Launch Camera Raw

Depending on the scenario you in either CR opens automatically or not.

JPEG, TIFF & PNG

When you open an (JPEG, TIFF & PNG) image in Adobe Photoshop it will show as a layer. Therefore you need to open the Camera Raw filter.
Open the Camera Raw filter inside Adobe Photoshop to access the Split Toning panel
Open the Camera Raw filter inside Adobe Photoshop to access the Split Toning panel

RAW files

When you open a RAW file in Adobe Photoshop, it will actually appear in the Camera Raw window as shown in the screenshot above.

What colour to use?

As the artist, you can choose any colour combination you like. While there is no rule for the split toning you may notice that complementary colours usually work great. Complementary colours are simply opposite in the colour wheel. If you do not know what the opposite colours are in the wheel, I invite you to use the free online Color Wheel application by Adobe which is really easy to use.
Colour Wheel by Adobe Color CC
Colour Wheel by Adobe Color CC

Examples of Split Toning edits

Here are a few images I have edited using the Split Toning technique.

Portrait

Split Toning applied to give a vintage fashion feel to the image
Split Toning applied to give a vintage fashion feel to the image
Split Toning for the Portrait with cool highlights and warmer shadows
Split Toning for the Portrait with cool highlights and warmer shadows

Landscape

Split Toning applied to warmer the highlights while keeping the shadows cool
Split Toning applied to warmer the highlights while keeping the shadows cool
Split Toning for the Tower Bridge in London with warm highlights and no colour tone in the shadows
Split Toning for the Tower Bridge in London with warm highlights and no colour tone in the shadows
 
Split Toning is applied to create a dark mood in the scene
Split Toning is applied to create a dark mood in the scene
Split Toning for the British Parliament House with warm highlights and cooler shadows
Split Toning for the British Parliament House with warm highlights and cooler shadows

Conclusion

If you have never used Split Toning before, I hope the above has convinced you to give it a try. It is so easy to use and yet so powerful. While you may not need to use it on every photograph you edit, it is one of those techniques that should have a place in your quiver. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section.

© 2020 Tom Migot Fine Art All rights reserved​

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