Today I wanted to take a minute to share some information about split toning, specifically as it applies to color photography. This is hopefully just the first of many tutorials we'll be posting here, so if you like this post be sure to comment and share, and let us know what else you'd like to see on the blog! 

So what is split toning? In the most basic terms, split toning is the process of adding color into either the shadows or the highlights of a photo, or both. Even if you haven't ever used split toning on your photos, chances are you've seen it a lot. And if you're a Silky Presets owner, it's almost guaranteed that you're already split toning your photos, whether you realized it or not! 

There are lots of tutorials on how to split tone a black and white image, so I'll just briefly touch on the Lightroom version here; it does make the changes easier to see. (The Photoshop method below will work exactly the same on BW images as it does for color.

We'll start with B&W split toning in Lightroom, but if this is old news to you, feel free to skip ahead to the color section below!

Here we have a black and white image, this one happens to have been edited with GentleBW from the Silver Collection. 

Now we're going to add the split toning. In the Develop module of Lightroom, we scroll down to the Split Toning panel.

Clicking on the small grey box next to Shadows, we can select a color to add to the darkest parts of the photo. For this example I'm going to use blue. Don't worry too much about getting the color just right; you can adjust it in a second.

Now I click on the grey box next to Highlights, and select a second color, in this case yellow. For big contrasts you'll want to use warm vs. cool, or complementary colors (red/green, blue/orange, purple/yellow) and for more monochrome results, you can use all warm or all cool colors. 

Here is my split toned BW photograph! I can now adjust the hue and saturation of either the Highlight color or the Shadow color, and adjust the balance (which color is more dominant). Here's my finished product: 

If you're like me, though, this isn't terribly exciting. What I really love split toning for is COLOR photography, and I'll show you why. 


Split Toning Color Images in Lightroom

Here I have a wedding image, taken in the shade. It's quite cool, so I definitely want to warm it up. 

The problem is, when I simply adjust the temperature slider to warm the photo, I end up over-brightening and over-YELLOWing the whole image.

I've lost a lot of the detail and contrast in the grasses as well. This is where split toning works really well--we'll add warmth while maintaining depth. 

I follow the same process as before, only this time I'll start with the highlights, because I know I want to add a warmer touch to their faces. For this I select a light peachy tone. 

And here is the side-by-side so far: 

Now, I could probably stop there, but I want to add even more warmth and richness to this photo, and a bit of a creative twist. So I'm going to add some color into the shadows as well. To really set off the greens in the photo I'm going to use a shade of their complementary color--red. 

I adjusted the balance slider just slightly to make the highlight tone more prominent than the shadow tone (this is something you'll just have to fiddle with, it's not an exact science) and this is my finished product: 

So that's color split toning in Lightroom! There are practically infinite possibilities and color combinations to play with, so definitely do some experimenting!

Split Toning Color Images in Photoshop

As you probably know, Photoshop doesn't have a handy-dandy split toning panel like Lightroom, however, that doesn't mean we can't do something similar there as well. We'll start with this photo in Photoshop: 

Now we're going to add the split toning. We'll start by making a new Solid Color Fill Layer.


Pay special attention to the blending mode--for your shadow layer I recommend using Linear Dodge (add) and a starting opacity of 25%.

Now you get to pick your shadow color. It's okay if your shadows look overly lightened, we'll correct it in the next step. I'm adding some purple for a funkier look. 

Now I add the highlights layer, for this layer I recommend the blending mode Linear Burn and again a starting opacity of 25%. 

For this example I'm going with a somewhat greenish yellow to contrast with that funky purple. 

Here's our finished split toned photo (imported back into LR for ease of comparison):



And that's it! If this particular look isn't your cup of tea, no worries---you can get a nearly endless variety of split toning effects using this simple method. 

Let me know what you think and please do share this article if you think it might be useful to others! Are there any other tricks you'd like to learn (editing, posing, using different kinds of light, etc?) Leave ideas in the comments! 

All images are by Liberty Kifer

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  1. Nicole

    Invaluable information. Thank you! I look forward to your next tutorial post.

  2. Kirsten

    This is great! Looking forward to more tutorials! :) I use so little of the functionality that Lightroom has, can’t wait to play :)

  3. Brittany

    <3 this! I will be playing around with split toning now for sure!

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