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Photography

How to Split-Tone Process 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 I'll show you 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. This screencast is more focused 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: at the time, the chemicals used when creating sepia prints were longer lasting and more resistant to environmental pollutants than those used for black and white prints. Many archival prints were sepia processed because of this, and that's why we see so many vintage sepia prints.

For example, I love this image of a Native American moose hunter taken in 1926 by Edward Sheriff Curtis that I found while looking at old public domain images. Everything about the image is a product of its time. The deep sepia toning, the subject's garb and even moose hunting in general speak to a very specific period of American history. 

The portrait is nearly perfect to my mind. The sepia and limited contrast tie the subject with his surroundings. This is not a man in the woods, this is a man of the woods. The practiced ease with which he holds the horn and the focus in his pose are evidence that the hunter is an expert. Curtis has, almost voyeuristically, captured him at work. Much of what makes this image is the toning. Without it, I think the image would lack the crucial link between the man and his surroundings.

The Moose Hunter Cree
The Moose Hunter — Cree by Edward Sheriff Curtis. Available here.

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 Black and White 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.

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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