How Split Toning Can Add Character to Your Images


Split toning is one of Lightroom’s simplest yet often ignored options. Since it's a quick and effective way to give photos a more distinctive look, it’s definitely worth trying out.

Split toning is a type of toning applied to different areas of a photo based on luminance values. This means that you can add one color at a certain saturation level to the highlights and another at a different saturation level to the shadows.

This option is often useful for landscape photographers, because it allows them to add  coolness to shadows and warmth to highlights. However, split toning can be used in portraiture too – it can help you achieve some truly outstanding portraits!

Split toning options

Lightroom’s split toning is extremely easy to understand and apply. You can use it for both split tone and single tone adjustments, depending on your artistic intentions and visions. There are only five options you need to get familiar with and these are highlight hue, shadow hue, highlight saturation, shadow saturation and balance.

The best way to understand these options is to simply test them out on your images. To put it simply, by splitting the highlights and shadows adjustments, Lightroom allows you to achieve a full split tone effect. You can tint dark and light areas of the photo in different ways.

The saturation adjustment slider controls the degree to which an image is toned,  the hue slider controls the actual color that you want to add and the balance slider lets you define which brightness levels qualify as shadows or highlights.

Photo by Benjamin Voros

Tinting color and B&W photos

The most common way to split tone images is to make these adjustments to black and white photographs.  Even though split tone adjustments are much more obvious for b&w photographs, you can still split tone color images and get some truly eye-catching results.

What’s the main reason behind using split toning for color images? For instance, if you use the color temperature adjustment in the “basic” panel in Lightroom, the changes you make will affect the entire photo and sometimes you don’t want that. In case you want only highlights to be warmer or shadows cooler (or anything else, there are no limits!), you should use split toning because that’s exactly what you need in this scenario.

Photo by Rachel Crowe

When to avoid split toning

In some specific cases, split toning won’t be the best option and you’ll probably have to stick to color temperature adjustments.

Color temperature in Lightroom uses a different algorithm than split toning, which means that these two adjustments respond differently to various settings. Color temperature usually responds better to large adjustments and the quality of your image won’t deteriorate much even if you do large shifts in color temperature.

However, as your adjustments become more extreme, split toning can cause the image to lose detail in its highlights and shadows.  This happens because split toning is simply meant to add some additional character to your photographs and stylize them, but it cannot fix any underlying issues such as wrong white balance or wrong exposure.

Photo by Chris Yang

Final Thoughts

While split-toning is one of Lightroom’s lesser-known tools, it certainly has some useful functions that every photographer should know and apply from time to time. In case you are working with complex photographs that were shot with more than one light source or if you need to fix difficult color-related issues, split toning can be an important tool and even a lifesaver sometimes.

Even if you’re simply trying to add an interesting stylistic element to your photos and use an experimental approach to colors, split toning can become a new part of your Lightroom toolkit.

In case you want to learn more about this underrated Lightroom tool, feel free to check out the following links!

Further Resources:

    1. How To Create Duotones And Split Tones In Lightroom
    2. Useful Resources For Making You A Master Of Split Tone Photography
    3. 5 Lightroom Edits That Will Rock Your Outdoor Photography
    4. How To Make A Two-Tone Landscape Using Photoshop RAW

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

Hi Jasenka,

Nice post.

Split toning cannot be applicable all time, only in some cases you can use. In general some people who use Adobe Lightroom opt adjustments to black and white photographs for skin toning, this will work in the majority of the cases.

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