|||Lightroom Split Toning: The Secret to Using It Well

Lightroom Split Toning: The Secret to Using It Well

The Lightroom Split Toning panel seems simple and straightforward at first glance. You have two sliders to adjust the Highlights – one adjusts the color and the other adjusts the saturation (or strength) of that color. You have the same two sliders for adjusting the Shadows.

Lightroom split toning

And in between, you have the Balance slider. Here’s where it gets tricky. Move it to the right to move more of your image into the area that the Highlights sliders adjust. Move it to the left to move more of your image into the area that the Shadows sliders adjust.

(In other words, move it to the right to expand Lightroom’s definition of what a Highlight is so that it includes more of your image in the Highlights adjustment. This would make the Shadows adjustment apply only to the darkest Shadows.)

What’s not so clear is that this Balance slider doesn’t make a precisely drawn line. Like a Curves adjustment will brighten or darken a range of tonal values rather than a precise degree of brightness, the Split Toning Balance slider pushes your edits towards the Highlights or the Shadows but doesn’t necessarily remove them from one area or the other.

Lightroom split toning

Do you see how, in the following screen shot, the After side has a faint pink tint? I applied this edit to a very bright gray image – it couldn’t be much brighter before becoming pure white. Because it’s so bright, I assumed that a Shadows adjustment wouldn’t affect this image at all. But, as you can see, the Shadows adjustment created a tint.

Lightroom split toning

The amount that the Shadows sliders will affect the Highlights in your image, or vice versa, depends on several things:

  • The Balance amount
  • The Saturation amount in Shadows
  • The value of the pixels in your image
  • The values of the Highlights adjustments

This combination of factors makes the Split Toning panel even more impressive. Lightroom is applying lots of behind-the-scenes calculations to ensure that your edit looks as natural as possible. For instance, if you applied very strong reds only to the shadows, and these reds did not transition naturally into the brighter areas of the photo, your edit wouldn’t even begin to look natural.

Lightroom Split Toning: Why Is Knowing This Secret Important?

Say that I want to add a touch of Blue to the Shadows of this photo. Shadows often have a blue or cyan tint naturally, and adding blue to them can deepen their appearance.

Even with a fairly low amount of Blue added to the photo, my very bright white sprinkles are taking on Blue due to the Shadows adjustment.Lightroom split toning

Reducing my saturation and adjusting the Highlights and Balance gives me cooler shadows without cooling the highlights as well.

Lightroom split toning

The same could happen with a landscape photo. If you add Yellow to warm up the foreground of your photo, your clouds could very well take on a yellow tint.

When Should You Use Split Toning in Lightroom?

Now that you know this handy little secret, you can use Split Toning in any number of situations.

  • Add tones to a black & white. Like sepia photos? This is the way to do it! Add shades of orange, yellow, or brown to both the Shadows and the Highlights.
  • Use it as a more precise white balance adjustment. Proper white balance in a photo often differs from the shadows to the highlights. The White Balance Temp & Tint sliders apply their adjustments to the entire photo without taking Shadows & Highlights into account.
  • Stylize a photo to give it a filter effect.
  • For outdoor shots, add yellow to the shadows and blue to the highlights to warm the foreground and cool the sky.Lightroom split toning

How Should You Use Split Toning?

To use split toning, your main tool will be your eyes! Ask yourself at every step whether your edit still looks believable.

Begin with either Shadows or Highlights – wherever you want to make the biggest impact. You can move the Hue slider to select a color or click on the color box to the right of the Highlights or Shadows labels.

In this color box, Hue changes from left to right and Saturation changes from top to bottom. So click in the area that contains the color family you’d like, then move this point up or down to increase or decrease the saturation.

Lightroom split toning

You can also click in the color box and drag (without releasing your click) outside the box to use a color from your image or somewhere else on your screen.

After closing the color box, you can fine-tune the Hue and Saturation sliders if you’d like.

Repeat with the other area of the tonal range (Highlights or Shadows), if you’d like. And then adjust the balance to clean up any overlap between the two. Remember that moving your Balance slider to left makes your Shadows adjustment predominant in your image; moving it to the right makes the Highlights adjustment predominant.

The most important thing to know about Split Toning is that your Saturation should usually stay low. It’s easy to go overboard with these sliders, so use restraint!

Super Cool Tip

Hold down your alt/option key on your keyboard while you adjust either of the Hue sliders or the Balance slider. This will increase the saturation of the selected color to 100% so that you can better gauge its effect.

Lightroom split toning

Lightroom Split Toning Summary:

  • The Split Toning Balance slider will push your edits towards the Highlights or Shadows, but won’t completely separate the two.
  • Make sure you aren’t relying on the Balance slider to prevent unnatural edits like blue skin tones or yellow clouds.
  • Use split toning to tone a black and white, adjust white balance, stylize a photo, or deepen the sky and warm the foreground in an outdoor photo.
  • To use Split Toning, choose a color and then adjust the Saturation. Keep the Saturation low for natural looks. Adjust Balance after working on Highlights and Shadows.
  • Hold down alt/option while moving Balance or one of the Hue sliders to see what your toning would look like at full strength.

So that’s it! Hope this tutorial has been helpful for your Lightroom edits. Post any questions you have about Lightroom Split Toning below.

By |2018-10-11T16:06:13+00:00October 11th, 2018|Featured Lightroom Tutorials, Photo Editing|5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Elle November 6, 2018 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Wonderful explanation…split toning had me confused until I read this!

    • Erin Peloquin November 8, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Yay! So glad I could help. It’s good to hear from you, Elle!

  2. Joyce October 12, 2018 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Great explanation on split toning. Thank you.

    • Erin Peloquin October 13, 2018 at 8:30 am - Reply

      Thank YOU, Joyce! It’s great to hear from you!

  3. David October 12, 2018 at 10:07 am - Reply

    thank you. This will take some getting used to.

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