How To Find Your Unique Photographic Style (Using the Split Toning Tool)

Posted by Dylan Kim on

Split toning was a Lightroom tool that I ignored for a very long time. It is great tool in Lightroom that will help you further develop your own editing style. Split Toning comes from when two tones were used on an image, usually a warm and a cool tone. Now that we have Lightroom, we can be much more flexible with these tones. It’s my personal preference to use the split tone after tone curves and the HSL tool. Check out my previous blogs if you haven’t already! Now, Let’s get into this.



The Split Toning Tool adds color to the Highlights and Shadows. It is a fairly easy tool to understand. It is split up by shadows and highlights and you can use the hue and saturation sliders to adjust the tones. As a quick reminder: Hue: the shade of the color


Saturation: the intensity of that color.


You can adjust the hue and saturation two different ways. You can use the sliders to get the desired tint you would like. Or…by clicking on the color box you can manually select the color you would like to use.



This opens the entire color spectrum and using the eye dropper you are able to select the tone you would like to use. To get more precise tones, you can use use the two numbers below for more accurate colors.



The “H” in the bottom left indicates the number of the Hue.



The slider in the bottom right indicates the level of saturation. You might be asking what is that bar in the middle?



The balance bar dictates if the tone of the highlights dominates the image or if the shadows do. For example take this image; I have set the highlights to an orange hue and the shadow to a blue hue (utilizing a complementary color scheme which I talked about here).

As I slide to the left you can see the image become cooler and as I slide to the right, the image becomes warmer.


I usually keep this leaning towards whichever side is dominant in the photograph. In this case, I want to emphasize the orange highlights. So, I want it to have the balance shifted towards the highlights or towards the right.  



I find the easiest way to use this tool is to identify the highlights and shadows you want to effect. With this image, the highlights and shadows are very easy to identify. The foreground is all shadow. The background is all highlights. From there, you can click on the color of the highlight.



From here you can still see the hue and saturation. The hue is on the X Axis (from left to right) and the saturation is on the Y Axis (up and down).



I usually start off at full saturation to make sure I get the color I want and then desaturation to a nicer shade. Then you can drag the degree of the hue simply by clicking on the number and dragging left to right.



Pro Tip: If you hold down the Option Key (on Mac) you can drag the color ramp to suit your needs. These five blocks at the top are called Swatches and can be customized to whatever color you’d like. I usually keep four tones I commonly use in my editing and a neutral gray tone. This way you can quickly click through and see what looks the best.



To add tones to the swatches, make sure you are on the tone you want to add. Then, simply right click and select “Set this Swatch to Current Color”. Within this menu, you also have the option to reset the individual swatch or the entire bar of swatches.



I highly recommend using these swatches and putting several tones that you commonly use. This way, you can quickly expedite your workflow.



There are several ways that I primarily use the Split Tone Tool. I primarily use it with Complementary, Monochromatic and Black & White color schemes.


Using the color wheel, Complementary colors are at opposite sides. A very common Complementary combination is Orange and Blue. As you can see below, here are a couple examples of a complementary color scheme. A lot of movie posters use this specific complementary color scheme.



Using the Split Tone Tool, we can extenuate the orange in the sunset and the blue in the shadows making the photograph more visually appealing. As seen in the example I used earlier.


Split Toning is also fantastic for tinting a photograph one shade of color. For example, take this photograph of a tree. I can use split toning to change the highlights and shadows to shades of green.

This isn’t a huge change, but it helps to keep the entire composition green throughout. As you can see in the before and after, the changes are subtle, yet pretty powerful.


Black and White

Using the Split Toning Tool, you can subtly tint your image instead of having it be black and white. I’ll keep the tones the same on the photo of the tree when I turn it black and white.
As you can see, they are slightly different then pure black and white. I really enjoy adding color to my black and white images. I am always experimenting trying to find new color combinations that work. Do you use Split Toning? I’d love to hear how you use the tool!

← Older Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published