Gig Photography Editing Tips: Split Toning

By February 8, 2014Tips & Tricks

By Chris Blizzard 

Put simply, split toning is a process of tinting the shadows of an image one colour, and the highlights another. It’s an incredibly effective technique for adding mood to images, like adding some red into the shadows can have a “vintage” effect, or as you’ll have seen in almost every hollywood movie, adding cyan to the shadows and orange (or teal) to the highlights. If you’ve never tried split toning, it’s worth experimenting a little to see what you can do, but I want to show you how I use it with live music photos to help combat the dodgy skin tones you can get from the LED lights found in lots of venues. Then towards the bottom I’ll show you how to apply the effect in lightroom or photoshop.

Here’s an example of an image without split toning, and with 3 different split toning examples.

examples

As you can see, depending on the colours you choose to use, split toning can have a massive effect, or a more subtle one. Top left being without any, and bottom right being what I’d normally go for, but there’s no reason not to head in one of the other directions. I’m going to give you a couple of examples with different lighting scenarios. So looking at this next photo, with basic exposure adjustments, and white balance corrected based on the colour of the musician’s clothing, we’re left with a somewhat “dead” skin tone.

split-tone-ex-1a

One way to deal with this would be to simply adjust the white balance for a nicer skin tone. Alternatively, split toning allows us to add a nice orange hue to the highlights (where the skin tones are), and help add definition to parts of the image by contrasting that with a blue tone in the shadows.

split-tone-ex-1b

In this next image, again I’ve taken the exposure and white balance to where I want them, but this time the shot is closer to a silhouette.

split-tone-ex-2a

In this case adding orange to the highlights isn’t going to help. It will only discolour the highlights making them look a little “odd”. Blue in the shadows will make the skin tones worse too. For this I added some extra red in the highlights to make them pop, and added some orangey skin tones to the shadows. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it has some extra impact.

split-tone-ex-2b

Split toning isn’t right for every image, but for some it can be incredibly effective. So how do we do it?

In Lightroom:

Lightroom has a wonderfully easy to use tool in the develop module called “split toning”. With one slider to select the highlight colour, one for the shadow colour, a saturation slider for each to let you say how much of each colour you want to add, and a balance slider to let you select the mid point between the two. It really couldn’t be simpler. These are the settings used on that first example:

split-tone-lr-1

In Photoshop:

split-tone-ps-1

Photoshop has many ways to split tone an image, but in CS6 they added a gradient map adjustment layer which is (in my opinion) the easiest, most powerful way to split tone. So the first thing you’ll want to do is head down to that little circle that’s half coloured in at the bottom of the layers palette to add an adjustment layer. Clicking that will bring up a list of adjustment layers, pick the one called “Gradient Map”.

split-tone-ps-2

by default it will set the darks to black and highlights to white (rendering your photo B&W) because those are the default background and foreground colours. Obviously you’ll want to change that (otherwise you’d have just hit Command + U to desaturate the shot right?) Clicking on that black to white gradient will open up a new window where you can play with the colours.

split-tone-ps-3

As you can see in that screenshot, I’ve picked the orange to blue preset, and it looks a little strange. Don’t worry, I’ll sort that out in a second. Obviously you can pick a preset in the top section marked with a number 1. Alternatively, you can click on the little squares I’ve marked with the numbers 2 and 3 to change those colours (once you’ve had a bit of a play you can probably even save your favourite colours as a new preset).

Once you’re happy with your gradient (I’m still using that orange to blue, but probably wouldn’t for most images), head back to your layers palette, and change the blending mode of the adjustment layer to “color”. You’ll instantly notice a big difference, but the final step is to bring the opacity down to taste. Here I’ve taken it to 30%.

split-tone-ps-4

I’ve deliberately left out a lot of details about how you can customise the gradient, because I think in these cases it’s best to play and find something you really like, and learn the tool properly instead of just following the exact steps I give you.

If you have any tips, long or short, for editing your images, I encourage you to write it up and send it in to gig-photographer. Let’s make this site a fantastic resource for each other.

Thanks very much Chris.

You can find more of Chris’s work or connect with him via the following links

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