One of the most underutilized features in Adobe Lightroom (and most editing softwares), is split-toning. Split toning is a feature that allows us to add color into the highlighted and shadowed areas of our images. This is incredibly powerful for not only increasing color depth and interest in a photograph, but creating your own unique creative style as well. In this article we are going to breakdown the split toning feature, discuss how it works, and cover a few practical uses of it.
Note that we are using Adobe Lightroom as an example for this article, but these principles can be applied to any editing software that also has split-toning. Softwares such as Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw, Luminar, Capture One, and even Instagram have split-toning features built into them.
READ OR WATCH: This blog post is also available in video form! If you’d rather watch me explain this content, simply watch the video below. Otherwise you can find the text guide below. Just keep scrolling!
What Is Split Toning?
Split toning is a feature that allows us to add different shades of color into the highlights and shadows of our images. We can control the hue, saturation, and luminance of these colors. In Lightroom, the split toning function can be found in the develop panel below the Basic Adjustments, Tone Curve, and HSL Sliders.
Split Toning does not affect pure white or pure black areas, as these are void of any shadows or highlights. You can see this in the screenshot below. The far left is pure white and the far right is pure black. The split toning effect does not affect those areas.
How Does Split Toning Work?
To use the split toning feature, simply drag the hue slider under highlights/shadows to select your desired color, then slide the saturation slider to adjust the strength. You can hold the Option key (Alt on windows) while sliding to see a preview of 100% saturation of each color. Alternatively, you can click the small boxes next to highlights and shadows and select a color in the box.
You can also click and hold within this box and drag your cursor outside of Lightroom to sample colors from other programs or applications. This is an amazing way to sample colors from photographers you like, and can help you achieve a similar editing style. This feature is highlighted within the YouTube video linked above.
You will also notice a “Balance” slider between the highlight and shadow sections. This slider will allow you to adjust the balance between the colors in the highlights and shadows. By sliding this to the left, you will emphasize the split toning effect more in the shadows than in the highlights. If you slide this to the right, you will emphasize the effect in the highlights more than in the shadows.
Which Colors Should You Add?
In some situations, it might be easy to identify which colors you’d like to add with the split toning function. For example, if you’d like to make your image warmer but are not liking the effects that the temperature slider is giving your image, you can simply add orange/yellow into the highlights and shadows in the split toning section in order to add warmth to your photo. On the flipside of that, you can cool down your images by adding blues or purples into the highlights/shadows.
In other situations, you might be unsure which colors to add. This is where the color wheel comes into play. We can use the color wheel to find complementary colors which we can then add into our image. Complementary colors are colors that are on the opposite side of the color wheel from one another, and when placed next to each other establish a level of color harmony that looks good to the human eye.
You can find a useful color wheel on adobe.color.com. Once here, select “complementary” on the left hand side of the page to bring up the complementary color wheel. Here, you can select a color on the wheel and it will show you its complementary color. You can then add these colors into the highlights and shadows of your image.
However, complementary isn’t the only type of color harmony out there. Analogous color schemes (colors that are near each other on the color wheel) can result in quite unique looking images. You can select the “Analogous” color harmony rule on the left side of the page in order to bring up the analogous color wheel. This will show you analogous color schemes you can use in your photo. In the example video I show how you can use analogous colors to create unique and interesting color combinations. Sometimes these look slightly unnatural, but using them can help you create your own unique editing style and stand out on social media.
I urge you to experiment with the different color wheels on adobe.color.com, the possibilities are endless!
Taking a Look at an Example
Here is an example of an image that greatly benefited from split toning. This image was shot during Autumn in Northern Vermont. As you can see from the first shot, the colors are already quite beautiful. However, I really wanted to emphasize the golden warm colors I saw that day. By adding orange/red in the highlights and shadows I can really bring out the natural colors that exist within the scene. This creates much more color depth and interest, and leads to a much more compelling photo.
In short, split toning is an amazing feature that can be utilized to add color depth and interest into your images, or create unique and beautiful color combinations that can help your images standout. The possibilities are quite endless with this feature, and it should be an essential tool in every photographers toolbox!