Photo Tip: Split Tone Images – by Sabrina Henry

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Some of you may be familiar with split tone images but for those who are not, here is a little background information before we dive in today. Split toning has its roots in the days of film when photographers would tint the highlights and shadows of their black and white images using various chemical processes. Today these processes can be carried out digitally although some would argue that they cannot be completely replicated using Lightroom or Photoshop.

In this post I am going to share an image I made during my recent trip to the American Midwest, specifically Indiana, and to use it to demonstrate a few split tone techniques. We visited an old cemetery with markers going back to the early 1800’s. This is the colour version of the photograph.


It was a very hot day and the light was quite harsh. To me, this version did not give the feeling of deep history that surrounded us. The light lay everything bare and this was little sense of connection with the past which was of course, completely untrue.

At first, after processing the RAW file, I decided to work on the mood by converting it to black and white which seemed much more appropriate for an image highlighting something from the 1800’s. This is the black and white image.

indiana cemetery

In general I was much happier with it than the colour image because I was beginning to evoke a sense of a connection to a time gone by. Still I felt the image could be improved. So I decided to use the Split Tone panel in the Develop module of Lightroom to further enhance the image and this is the result.

indiana cemetery split tone

In this image I have processed the highlights by accentuating the yellows and toning the blues in the shadows. Using opposite colours for highlights and shadows is generally the best approach because you add depth to the image that you don’t quite get by applying the same treatment to both. The differences are quite subtle between the black and white version and the split tone but I feel the image comes much closer to conveying the feeling of being there. Of course the best way to find out what works for you is to play around in the digital darkroom and it’s far easier than in the good old days of film.

While the split tone technique is most commonly applied to black and white images, you can also apply it to colour images as well. To find out more, check out Gavin Gough’s Photographer’s Post-Production videos available here.

2 thoughts on “Photo Tip: Split Tone Images – by Sabrina Henry

    jdmaleski said:
    September 19, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Great tip! I often use the yellow/blue split tone on color images to warm them up a bit while keeping some depth in the shadows. Are there other color combos that work well? I usually find the others to be too Instagram filter-y, you know? ; )


      sabrina responded:
      September 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! Colours that are complimentary to each other work well such as red/green, blue/orange, purple/yellow. You probably need to play around with the hues and saturation a little bit for both the highlights and shadows to make sure your image doesn’t start to look to filter-y. Have fun!


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