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How to add interest to your images by using split toning/colour grading

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Colour Grading adds a little creativity to our black and white images

One of the great advantages of post processing is that it allows us to really get creative with our images. I have often found that I like the composition of an image yet I didn’t get the exposure right, or I got the right exposure but the subject wasn’t very interesting. These are the times that I have tried to become creative with my images rather than discard them, and colour grading is an easy way to do that.

What is split toning/colour grading?

I came across Split Toning (now upgraded to Colour Grading) as part of a lesson on black and white conversion. In the lesson, instead of simply leaving our image as monochrome we went a step further and added split toning, adding a more creative aspect to our editing.

Split toning is basically the process of adding one colour at a certain saturation level to the highlights and another colour at a certain saturation level to the shadows of an image, then blending them to reach the required effect. Split toning can be added to colour images as well as to black and white but in my examples I converted the image from colour to black and white before adding split toning.

There were a few steps to take before going to the Split Toning Panel in Lightroom Develop Mode. First of all, I needed to choose a colour image that I believed would convert well to black and white, that is, an image with strong contrast and some texture. I chose this image and converted it to a black and white image by using the process outlined in my previous post. I then navigated to the Split Toning Panel. In this panel I found a Hue slider and a Saturation slider for both highlights and shadows. I adjusted the highlights to give a yellow hue and the shadows to a bluish hue. The balance slider allowed me to move the line where the shadows transition to highlights, giving me control over the final look.

You can experiment as much as you like to get the right tone for your image, then add a vignette if you wish

Some colours are more popular for split toning than others.

· Orange adds a warm glow and is most often used for the highlights

· Blue adds a cool effect and is most often used for the shadows

· Brown creates a sepia tone on a black and white image

As with all processing, it is important to be subtle when using split toning and not to overdo the processing.

Split Toning replaced with Colour Grading

N.B. Lightroom Update in October 2020

"Lightroom Classic now offers a robust color grading tool that provides powerful color controls for midtones, highlights, and shadows--plus a Global control that will adjust the overall color of your image. Color Grading replaces Split Toning and provides more control to adjust colors in your image. Take your images to new creative heights by adjusting the color wheels in any combination to create subtle, vivid, complementary, or contrasting looks."

Although the Lightroom panel is now called Colour Grading instead of Split Toning its purpose is the same - to allow us to be more creative with our images by adjusting colours. It is, in effect, image toning taken to the next level. In the Colour Grading panel we have the addition of a midtone control as well as controls for highlights and shadows. The split toning sliders have been replaced by colour wheels which can be adjusted in combination with each other to produce the exact effect we want.

I used Colour Grading to work on the image below.

Why tone black and white photos?

Sometimes a b&w photo can look flat. Adding a tone can give mood or depth to the image.

This is one of a series of posts concentrating on black and white photography, moving on to colour toning. The first two posts in the series cover the basics of choosing an image for black and white editing and making simple edits.

The new Colour Grading Panel in Lightroom offers much more than simply adding tones to black and white images. This new update, which replaces the Split Toning Panel, allows us to enhance the colours in our images and gives greater creative control over working with colour.

For a comprehensive overview of the new Colour Grading panel from experts in the field, check out my previous post here.


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