Day 29 – Split Toning in Photoshop   14 comments

I acquired a new tool in my photo toolbox today (thanks to Caroline Gorka for the inspiration – she used it to produce some very pleasing results in a recent post). The tool is split toning and it’s a technique that separately applies a colour tint to the highlights and shadows of a black and white image. You can, of course, use it on colour images too, but I believe it’s roots are in B&W print processing.

In the film world, you would apply two different toners to a print in sequence. The first toner affects the highlights, the second affects the shadows. However, I shutdown my darkroom and switched over to digital in 2004. Now my post-processing tool of choice is Photoshop CS3 (though I’m starting to look at Lightroom).

If you’re not interested in how split toning is accomplished, just skip down to today’s photo. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt my feelings.

To split tone an image, I started by converting it to black and white with the Channel Mixer and then split toning with the Color Balance tool to separately tone the highlights and shadows.

Step 1 : Convert to Black and White
To preserve your original image while editing, start by copying your background layer using Layer -> Duplicate Layer. Select the duplicate layer and choose Image -> Adjustments -> Channel Mixer. Select the Monochrome checkbox and use the sliders to fine tune the conversion to black and white. Make sure your total equals 100%.

Alternatively, you can add a channel mixer adjustment layer (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Channel Mixer). This will preserve the settings you choose in the Channel Mixer dialog box so you can fine tune them later (using Layer -> Layer Content Options).

Step 2 : Split Tone
The easiest way I found to split tone is to use the Color Balance tool. The Color Balance tool lets you adjust the tones of the highlights and shadows separately. Still working from the Background copy you made above, choose Image -> Adjustments -> Color Balance. Select highlights and use the sliders to adjust the colour of the highlights. Select shadows and adjust the sliders again.

Alternatively, as with the channel mixer, you can use an adjustment layer to preserve your settings and allow you to fine tune them. Choose Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Color Balance and adjust the sliders for the highlights and shadows. As above, you can come back to these settings to tweak them using Layer -> Layer Content Options.

My Result
I chose to split tone using a slight yellow cast in the highlights and a cyan/blue cast in the shadows.

Technical details: ISO 100, 1/320s, Lensbaby
Photoshop mods: Channel mixer to shift to b&w, Color Balance to split tone


14 responses to “Day 29 – Split Toning in Photoshop

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  1. Neat! I wasn’t sure from the blog post exactly what you were going for, but this is very cool. Might be interesting to post the interim stages of the photo as you make the changes.

  2. I’ve been playing with split tones a bit in Lightroom. I think this photo looks beautiful! The color really adds to the mood.

  3. Incredible photo Mike! It looks otherwordly.

  4. Just discovered the blog… Love it.

    We’re settling in here finally. There’s been a little more interest in the house in YYC but still stuck in limbo.

    Miss you guys.


  5. I saw this earlier today, and it IS very startling. Evocative, either the landscape itself and what you’ve done with it, or the Point of View. I could be approach an interplantary space port, or be a werewolf….how’s that!

  6. Love the Lensbaby effect, I’ve been thinking of picking one up. I’ve used the Channel Mixer technique before, the only additional step I use is to lower the opacity of the CM layer to bleed in some colour, give’s it an interesting effect. I’ll have to try step 2 one of these days. 😀

  7. This is really cool. You’re giving me some great ideas!

  8. Great shot. Love the effects.

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