Split Toning For Black and White Images

In order to add some color to a black and white image’s highlights or and/or shadows in a photograph, a technique called split toning can be used. This can involve tinting the highlights in one color while the shadows can be another color. The effect it creates adds some creativity to the image that brings certain viewpoints that the photographer or retoucher wants to express.

Split toning was originally a film photography technique, but it can now be done using a digital imaging editor. It is also not exclusive to black and white photography, you can also use it for colored images. If you use Adobe products, you can use Lightroom or Photoshop to get the job done. I will focus on Photoshop for this article. You can even use layers if you are more advanced with Photoshop and do many types of variations.

2. Next do the following:

Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance

3. The layer’s properties will appear on the right-hand side of the screen. You will see that under the Tone dropdown box are options for Shadows, Midtones and Highlights.

The original black and white image

4. Select the Tone you want to modify and then use the sliders to adjust the colors from more CMY (Cyan Magenta Yellow) to RGB (Red Green Blue). I just simply adjusted the Highlights and the Shadows using the sliders to give a more reddish coppery glow to the scenery. Then I made the Shadows a little more bluish or darker.

Adjusting Shadows first to darken tones
Adjusting Highlights leads to final result

The split toning adjustments I used results in a more sepia look to the image. It has a sort of reddish-brown look that resembles the hues in old photographs. I want to convey a more classic look to the image like it was shot from a different time period that is not the 21st century.

Split toning was originally used by film photographers to extend the longevity of their prints. Many of these prints were black and white. The process used various chemicals which results in some changes to the original prints color. During that process, a sepia look results in the way the print has a reddish-brown color.

Now that you can take digital black and white photos, why the need for split toning?

You can use it to add some colors and it doesn’t have to be a sepia look. We use it more for visual effects now rather than for extending the life of the print. This creates different emotional values, depending on how the image was retouched. In this example, I modified the Shadows to give a darker tone and more cooler effect to an image that has blown highlights.

The contrast in the photo above is isolating the tent, which has overblown highlights, with the rest of the scenery which can be darkened with shadows. It can also be adjusted using curves, but the split tone effect gives it some other shade of color other than simple greyscale or monochrome.

The best images to split tone in black and white contain darker tones. That way you can play with the Shadows and adjust the Highlights for contrast. The end result should be a balance that is pleasing to the eye.

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Vincent Tabora

Editor HD-PRO, DevOps Trusterras (Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Software Development, Engineering, Photography, Technology)