Split toning is a more advanced variation on the old technique of toning. It applies a different coloured tone to the shadows and the highlights in the picture, producing an interesting graded colour effect. It’s often used to give images a subtle, ‘fine art’ look, but it’s not always easy to get right.
It’s much easier to do digitally, of course, than it was in the old days with chemicals and developer trays, so here’s a guide to using the Lightroom Split Toning tools.
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Interestingly, there are no regular, ‘single tone’ toning tools in Lightroom. But once you see how the Split Toning options work, it’s easy enough to see how to create a regular sepia or cyanotype toning effect, for example.
So here’s my start image. It’s an old tractor on a farm museum, and the straight black and white version looks a bit plain and harsh to me. It looks like a prime candidate for the split toning treatment.
01 Split Toning basics
The Split Toning panel is in the Develop module, and here’s what it looks like. It has two sections, one for Highlights and one for Shadows. There’s a Balance slider in between for adjusting their relative strength later, but that doesn’t really need any explanation.
For both the Highlights and the Shadows there’s a Hue slider and a Saturation slider. These are used to choose the colour of the toning effect and its strength. You can use these sliders to set the hue and saturation values, or you can click the colour swatch buttons to the right…
02 Pick a colour
So let’s start with the shadows, and click this colour swatch button (1). This opens a colour picker window showing the full spectrum of hue and saturation values, and you can just click a point within this spectrum to apply that colour. I’ve chosen a colour (2) that looks roughly like a sepia tone.
03 Hue value
It’s not so easy to make small adjustments just by clicking different colours in this little window, but it is possible to make fine adjustments using the keyboard and mouse. This is especially useful if you already know the colour values you need.
For example, I know that a hue value of 36 gives the kind of sepia tone I’m looking for, and with the colour point selected in this window I can tap the left and right buttons on the keyboard to move the Hue value up and down by a value of 1 for each tap.
The Hue value is displayed at the bottom of the panel (circled), and in this case I’m increasing the hue value from the original setting (25) up to a new setting of 36. This moves the colour point to the right.
04 Saturation value
I can do the same with the Saturation value, but this time I use the up/down keys on the keyboard. The saturation was a little weak, so I’ve tapped the up button to increase it from the original value (18%) up to a new value of 30%.
You can see the colour point has moved vertically upwards this time, and there’s a Saturation slider at the bottom of the panel which shows the new setting – adjusting this slider directly would have achieved the same result.
There’s one more thing. If you look at the sliders in the Split Toning panel, just visible to the right of the colour picker, you’ll see these have updated to show my new settings. You can use these sliders directly and not use the colour picker at all if you already know the values you need.
05 Highlight tone
Now I can do the same thing for the highlight toning. This time, I’ve picked a colour which is a little more yellow and less saturated. You can see this in the colour picker – it’s the colour point with the thicker white border (circled). The slightly greyed-out point just above and to the left is the colour I chose for the shadows.
By picking two colours close together (or the same), you create a single-tone effect, and to save yourself having to do this all over again next time, you can save it as a preset. In fact, Lightroom comes with a selection of Split Toning presets already.
06 Bigger splits
Here’s a much bigger split between the shadow and highlight tones – this is probably more like most people’s ideas of split toning. Not every combination of colours works well (!) and you may have to experiment a little to get an effect that works, but that’s the advantage of using the split tone colour picker – you can make changes just by clicking different colours and judging the effect visually.
07 Split-toned pictures
Here’s the split toning effect I produced in step 5. It’s really intended to be a sepia toning effect, which is why I made the two colours so similar. If you want to reproduce it, the colour values are:
Highlights: Hue 54, Saturation 20
Shadows: Hue 36, Saturation 30
And here are the values for my second split toning effect (step 6):
Highlights: Hue 50, Saturation 81
Shadows: Hue 228, Saturation 38