How to Use Split Toning in Lightroom

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Split toning has become popular as a concept in the modern era. Because of an overabundance of toning filters and other such features on popular image-sharing apps such as Instagram. Today, we’ll go over how to use it in Lightroom so that we photographers can give our photos a distinct look and feel. Let’s get started right away.

What is Split Toning?

Split Toning is a creative technique that takes a slightly different approach to toning than standard toning. It entails using two different colors in an image, as opposed to one in normal toning, one for the highlights and one for the shadows.

In other words, it entails injecting colors into your highlights and shadows to make them stand out, or, depending on the look and feel you want, a uniform tone across the entire image. The goal is to give an image a split tone.

Let’s open Lightroom quickly and see how this adjustment is normally done.

Split-tone in Lightroom (Workflow with the Old Version)

Older versions of Lightroom included a simple Split Toning option that was easy to use. It’s not that the new Color Grading tool is difficult to grasp. That’s why I like Lightroom so much. Whatever you try, the learning curve is always short.

Here are the basic steps to split tone your images in Lightroom:

Step 1: Launch the Development Module and open the image.
This should be self-explanatory. Simply open the image in the Development module to begin the editing process.

Step 2 – First, finish the fundamental edits.
Before you begin the process of split toning, you must complete the first set of edits. These include lens profile correction, exposure adjustments, chromatic aberration removal, and so on.

Step 3: Convert the image to black and white.
Technically, you can still convert a colour image and use split toning on it, but the technique tends to exaggerate the colors already present. Furthermore, you have very little influence over the outcome.

I would recommend that you convert your image to black and white first. There are two methods for obtaining a black and white image. You can either shoot in black and white, which is the simplest option, but I don’t recommend it. A color photo can also be converted to black and white.

This is also a surprisingly simple task, and no, I don’t want you to select the Black & White treatment option. It is one method, but it is not my preferred method. Yes, I am a little fixated on doing things my way. My preferred method is to scroll down to the HSL/Color Tool and then drag the Saturation slider to the left for each color

Pull down the saturation sliders in HSL/Color panel to convert your image to B&W.

Step 4: In Lightroom, use the split toning tool.
The previous tool provided only a few options for experimentation. Highlight Hue, Shadow Hue, Highlight & Shadow Saturation, and Balance are all variables to consider. Choose your favorite color. You can do this by clicking on the grey box in the upper right corner. Clicking on that brings up a pop-up box where you can choose the color you want to work with.

You can also select a color by dragging the Hue slider. After you’ve chosen a color, you can fine-tune the result by changing the saturation for the colors you’ve chosen.

Shortcomings of the Old Option

As you can see, these tools only allow you to choose a Hue for the shadows and highlights. The saturation slider only allows you to increase (or decrease) the intensity of the tone you’ve set for the highlights and shadows.

The Hue control is responsible for adding tone to your image based on how bright the pixels are in a specific area.

The inability to adjust the Midtones is a significant omission. This is something I’ve always overlooked. Midtones have an impact on skin color for someone like me who is a portrait photographer, and this is something I have always overlooked when split-toning my images.

Working with the Color Grading Option in Lightroom

As I mentioned earlier, if you’re using the most recent version of Lightroom Classic, you’ll notice that the Split Toning tool has been replaced by the Color Grading tool.

Color Grading is far more powerful and provides far more tweaking options than Split Toning ever could. The method remains the same, but you now have more control over your images.

Most importantly, color grading allows me to control the mid-tones, which the original tool did not.

Workflow with the New Color Grading Tool

Split toning with Color Grading is very similar to split toning with the old Split toning panel. Except in this case, you have a few more tweaking options. I’ll go over those options in more detail later.

Steps one through three in the ‘Workflow with the old tool’ section should be followed.

After you’ve completed the basic edits, scroll down to the Split Toning / Color Grading tool. This option replaces Lightroom’s previous split toning tool. It’s right under the HSL / Color tool in the Development Module.

The new option includes some significant changes. As with the shadows and highlights, you can now add a separate color to the mid-tones. Alternatively, you can now affect global change as well. That is, you can add a single color that has an overall effect on the entire image.

There are some exceptions to the rule that global effects are best suited for a portrait photo. You can use both global and local effects with the landscape.

Intro to the Color Wheel

I’d like to introduce you to the Color Wheel and Complementary Color in this section. According to Wikipedia, the Color Wheel is an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle. The colors on that circle that are directly opposite each other are known as complementary colors.

When complementary colors are used, the contrast effect is maximized. That is sometimes necessary. At other times, you may select a color that is similar. It all depends on the final look and feel you want to achieve.

Returning to the image, I chose complementary colors for the highlights and shadows to maximize the effect. You can customize the Luminance levels to your liking.

Split Tone and the Hue Slider

Split toning is most noticeable in the highlights and shadows. The images’ pure white and pure black areas are unaffected. As a result, if such an area exists in your photograph, it will remain mostly unchanged.

Best Usage Case

When you have a black and white image, split toning works best. If you don’t have a B&W image, you can convert one by dragging the Saturation sliders in the HSL/Color panel. The following step is to experiment with the Color Grading controls.

Closing Thoughts

Split toning is an intriguing technique for applying and controlling the color tone of a photograph. The best use case is when you’re creating portrait or landscape images and want to achieve a specific look and feel.

Note: If you want to make some adjustments to the photo just let me know. I can do it for you at a very low cost. You can hire me to edit your photo.


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