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Create a Rich Purple and Gold Look in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

We're proud to stand with GLAAD against bullying, so in celebration of Spirit Day today Tuts+ is going purple to show our support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. In this tutorial we'll have a little fun with purple and you'll learn how to create a richly hued split-tone image in Adobe Photoshop.

What You'll Need

  • Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Pixelmator or another raster image editor (we're using Photoshop)
  • Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, or another parametric image editor
  • An image to edit
image to use
This is the image we'll be using via Unsplash

If you'd like to follow along with the image I'm using, you can download it here:

Colour Balance and Split Toning

Strictly speaking, the process described in this tutorial isn't split-toning, it's creative colour balancing. Split-toning is a black and white process, born in the darkroom, that uses chemical stains to add colour to the highlights and shadows of a monochrome image. This tutorial takes a colour image, uses split-toning tools in the digital raw development process, but retains much (though not all) of the colour information in the image.

For the purposes of demonstration, in this tutorial we use a heavy application of the technique. Adding just a touch of cool purple to the shadows and a gold glow to the highlights, however, is a very powerful, quick way to give a set of photos a unifying look. Colour balancing is a delicate art, but if you find just the right mix of colours you might even make this look part of your signature style. Try it for portraits, too!

Open Your Image

If you’re working from a RAW photograph then open it in Photoshop as you would normally, via Camera RAW

If you’re working from your own JPEG or the picture provided (also JPEG) then you’ll need to go to File > Open As.

open as
File > Open As

Select your JPEG and change the option at the bottom to Camera RAW.

open as raw
Change the Open As option at the bottom to Camera Raw

You’ll see your image opened up as if it was shot RAW, minus the extra data of course.

Make Your Usual Corrections

Make any edits that you usually would

Correct your image as you usually would, making sure exposure, colour balance and contrast are normal and neutralized. Correcting your image to start let's you evaluate it properly and plan out your next steps.  For this one, I’ve opened the Shadows a tad and added some Contrast.

Shift the Colour Balance Warm

After you've corrected your image your image, take the Temperature slider and move it to the right until your picture has a much warmer look. This is a global adjustment: it will change the overall colour balance of your entire image. At this point, because of the shift in colour balance, your image may look a bit off but that's OK. We'll bring in some purple in the next step and it'll create more separation.

How much you increase the temperature will depend on how cool your image is to start with, but you want to have an image with yellow-gold highlights. I’ve increased the temperature in our example image by +60.

Tone the Shadows Purple

Go to the Split Toning icon:

split toning
Use the split toning option in camera raw

Choose a dark purple Hue from the Shadows slider and drag the Saturation slider until purple is apparent in your image. Choose a colour of purple that is more intense and saturated than you think you might like in the final image.

In our example I've set the Hue to 269 and the Saturation to 65.

Choose a dark purple for your shadows

Remember, this doesn’t need to look natural! A stylised look is what we’re going for.

Fine-Tune the Balance

Now that you have purple in your image, take the Balance slider and move it completely to the right. Your nice purple will disappear. Then move the slider slowly back to the left to bring back the shadows. Stop when you find a balance that is pleasing to you.

Once you're in the right general area with the level of purple in your image, take the Saturation slider and drag it to the left to reduce the saturation of your purple shadows. In general we perceive a with a lack of saturation, so it looks off when they have too much.

Final Adjustments

Go back to the Basic tab where you started (far left) and make some final adjustments.

final adjustments
Make some final tweaks to your image

I’ve increased the overall Tint of the picture to slightly more purple. I’ve also sharpened it via the Clarity slider and then pulled a tiny bit of the overall colour out of the picture via Saturation and out of the midtones via Vibrance.

Finished Image

Ta-da! Our purple and gold split-toned image:

finished image
The finished image

We shifted the colour balance warm, brought in purple shadows, controlled the saturation and then made final adjustments. Although the image is dominated by gold and purple tones, you'll notice that some other colours are retained: the remaining greens, blues and browns add an unexpected complexity.

Why Purple and Gold?

Colour is a great communicator and seeing particular colours or colour combinations can make us feel a certain way without us being fully aware why.

Spirit Day uses purple, which symbolises spirit on the rainbow flag. Purple is said to be linked to imagination, spirituality and expanded awareness. Makes it a pretty perfect choice to use for Spirit Day!

Gold and yellow, although considered by some an ‘irritating’ colour, is also linked to mind and intellect. When you consider purple and yellow used together, like in our split-toning example, you could say that the two colours make a great balance between thought and spirituality.

It's also common to see purple and gold (or tan) tones in prints from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Photographic film and printing, especially for inexpensive prints, wasn't perfect: it tended to reproduce certain colours better than others, or shift over tine to a less-than-completely-faithful representation of the world. A purple and gold colour scheme is one way to evoke the visual palette of this time.

If colour psychology isn’t something you’re interested in then we can look at why these colours work well in a different way. 

Shadows in images are naturally cool colours, so a deep purple fulfils this. Likewise, sunlight is warm and we associate yellows, oranges and reds with it. For this reason, shadows in cool colours and highlights in warm colours, should always look pleasing if you get the balance right. It may not work so well the other way around!

Using purple for highlights and yellow for shadows isn't as effective.

Spirit Day is a fantastic opportunity for us to support the LGBT community and show our support as we take a stand against bullying. I hope you enjoy making your purple split-toned images in support of this fantastic cause and we'd love to see any you make here so feel free to post your efforts in the comments.

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