Lightroom Split Toning tools

How to use the Lightroom Split Toning feature

Split toning is a more advanced variation on the old technique of toning. It applies a different coloured tone to the shadows and the highlights in the picture, producing an interesting graded colour effect. It’s often used to give images a subtle, ‘fine art’ look, but it’s not always easy to get right.

It’s much easier to do digitally, of course, than it was in the old days with chemicals and developer trays, so here’s a guide to using the Lightroom Split Toning tools.

Interestingly, there are no regular, ‘single tone’ toning tools in Lightroom. But once you see how the Split Toning options work, it’s easy enough to see how to create a regular sepia or cyanotype toning effect, for example.

Lightroom Split Toning tools

So here’s my start image. It’s an old tractor on a farm museum, and the straight black and white version looks a bit plain and harsh to me. It looks like a prime candidate for the split toning treatment.

01 Split Toning basics

Lightroom Split Toning tools

The Split Toning panel is in the Develop module, and here’s what it looks like. It has two sections, one for Highlights and one for Shadows. There’s a Balance slider in between for adjusting their relative strength later, but that doesn’t really need any explanation.

For both the Highlights and the Shadows there’s a Hue slider and a Saturation slider. These are used to choose the colour of the toning effect and its strength. You can use these sliders to set the hue and saturation values, or you can click the colour swatch buttons to the right…

02 Pick a colour

Lightroom Split Toning tools

So let’s start with the shadows, and click this colour swatch button (1). This opens a colour picker window showing the full spectrum of hue and saturation values, and you can just click a point within this spectrum to apply that colour. I’ve chosen a colour (2) that looks roughly like a sepia tone.

03 Hue value

Lightroom Split Toning tools

It’s not so easy to make small adjustments just by clicking different colours in this little window, but it is possible to make fine adjustments using the keyboard and mouse. This is especially useful if you already know the colour values you need.

For example, I know that a hue value of 36 gives the kind of sepia tone I’m looking for, and with the colour point selected in this window I can tap the left and right buttons on the keyboard to move the Hue value up and down by a value of 1 for each tap.

The Hue value is displayed at the bottom of the panel (circled), and in this case I’m increasing the hue value from the original setting (25) up to a new setting of 36. This moves the colour point to the right.

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