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Photography

How to Split-Tone Process Black and White Photos in Adobe Lightroom

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This post is part of a series called Split Toning Your Photographs for Emotional Impact and Excitement.
Split Toning Colour Pictures in Photoshop: Theory and Practice

Split-toning is the process of adding different colours to the shadows and the highlights of an image; It can be used to create an emotional feel or to replicate vintage film processing techniques. In this short screencast you'll learn how to use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom's split toning tools to do both.

colour split toned
A colour image with split toning applied. Blues have been added to the shadows and oranges to the highlights. Image by Harry Guinness.

My fellow Tuts+ author Marie Gardiner has written a great tutorial on the theory and practice of split toning. The screencast below focuses on the practical aspects of split toning, so if you haven't read Marie's piece head on over there and come back.

Sepia Toning Black and White Photographs

The red-brown sepia colour of old photographs isn't just a result of aging, they were processed that way: sepia prints are longer lasting and more resistant to environmental pollutants than regular black and white prints. Many archival prints were sepia processed because of this, and that's why we see so many vintage sepia prints.The toning effect—though not the perfection of the portrait—is easy to recreate in Lightroom by adding muted browns and reds to your images, especially the dark or shadow areas.

sepia proceesed
The same image converted to black and white and then faux—sepia toned using split toning. Image by Harry Guinness.

Cyanotype Photographs

Cyanotype is one of my favourite vintage processes. I love the effect the blues have on my images.

Cyanotype was one of the earliest film processing techniques. Unlike sepia, it wasn't used because it was long lasting but because it was cheap. Proofs could be processed using the cheaper cyanotype chemicals and then once perfected, processed using more expensive chemicals.

Like sepia, there are countless great cyanotype images in the public domain. This portrait by F. Holland Day, an early pioneer of fine art photography, is one of my favourites. Day is also the older subject. I really like the contrast between the two subjects. Day is relaxed and at ease in front of the camera. The boy on the other hand, is not. He looks directly at the viewer, his focus and discomfort apparent to all. 

In terms of toning, I feel the cyanotype enhances the mood of the image. My eye is pulled straight to the boy's stare and the cold blues match its intensity. A warmer, sepia like treatment would contrast with the subjects and create a different feel.

FH Day and Maynard White in sailor suits portrait
F.H. Day and Maynard White in sailor suits by F. H. Day. Available here.

Again, the toning effect is easy to recreate in Lightroom. You just have to add cyans, sea-greens and blues to your shadows and highlights.

cyanotype split toning
The same image converted to black and white and then faux—cyanotype processed using split toning. Image by Harry Guinness.

Lightroom Split Toning Presets

If you want to try out split toning effects you can take inspiration from other visual artists as a starting point. Using already-made Adobe Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets makes it easy. Envato Elements is an all-you-can-download subscription service that includes plenty of each.

Premium Looks for Lightroom — Adobe Lightroom

The Premium Looks pack is a grab bag of interesting looks that you can apply in Lightroom. It includes a number of impressive split toning effects that are a breeze to apply to your images. 

Premium Looks Lightroom

Keep Going: Photoshop For Fine Control

Lightroom is great for creating an over—all look, but to really finely tweak the colour in your split toned images Photoshop has all the power:


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