Digital Darkroom; Lightroom and Camera Raw Split Toning

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels and black and white toning. This week we are looking at using split toning to help create a rounded image. If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

Last week I touched a little bit on split toning while looking at black and white toning. Most people recognise when a sepia tone has been added to a black and white picture because of the warm yellow/orange hue. Split toning can go much further than adding a vintage effect; it can help bring together the overall tone of image, creating contrast that make images pop, deal with areas of mixed light as well as introduce a specific feeling to an image.

If you wish to watch the companion video for this post you can so here.

RGB colour wheel, Source Wikipedia.

Before we jump into the sliders and the split toning panel we need to think a little bit about colour and colour theory. To make the most of the split tone panel you need to recognise the colours the colours in the picture and their relationship to each other.  When editing digitally we use the RGB colour wheel, since we are looking at light projected from a screen with tones going from black to white, the more colour that is added the lighter the tone all the way to white. In printing we use CMYK which is subtractive and starts with white and as more colours are added the darker it becomes until black.

The Primary colours of the RGB colour wheel are Red Green and Blue. All colours are made from a mix of these, which is why when we looked at curves in an earlier post there were only three colour channels.
The secondary colours are those that sit opposite the primary colours on the colour wheel; Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. These are the opposites of the primary colours, when editing the colour channels in curves, reducing blue for example adds yellow.
The tertiary colours are a mixture of primary and secondary colours that sit next to each other; Orange (Red + Yellow), Rose (Red + Magenta), Violet (Magenta +Blue), Azure (Blue + Cyan), Aquamarine (Cyan + Green), Chartreuse (Green+ Yellow).

All these colours have relationships with each other some good and some bad in certain combinations.

Analogous Colours

These are three colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel; Red, Rose and Magenta for example. These combinations are usually found in nature together with one being the more prominent than the other two. This scheme is pleasing to the human eye as it feels natural.


Triads are three colours that sit an equal distance from each other; they contrast well with one another and give a powerful effect when in a picture together.


These are colours that sit opposite each other on the colour wheel and when next to each other create a vibrant picture. They can also be used to cancel the other out when removing colour casts; too much green then add magenta.


These three colours one  colour plus the two colours either side of its commentary. This combination creates a strong visual contrast but not as intense as having complementary colours

Split toning

So why bother learning about the relationships between colours when adding split toning? The reason is when adding a split tone you need to know which colours to add and where to add them. It is easy just to add yellow to warm up and blue to cool down but how will the addition of yellow affect the rest of scene.

To add a split tone in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw in the same way using the split tone panel. In the Split Toning panel there are five sliders; two sliders are for the hue (the colour) and the saturation (the strength of the colour) for both highlights and shadows. The fifth slider is called balance and controls which tone is more prominent; move it to the shadows and the shadow colour has more prominence in the split tone, the opposite if you move the slider towards highlights. You don’t need to add colour to both the highlights and shadows, sometimes to just one tone is enough.

When creating a split tone for a black and white picture, adding only one colour can create a softening of either the highlights or the shadows. When adding two colours you need to make sure they are complementary so they create a nice vibrancy.

With colour images there is a lot more to think about as we must take into consideration the tones of the picture. What is there already? and what are we adding ?

The best way to demonstrate the use of split toning with colour photos is to show some examples.

This picture has a cool tone in the original the three main colours are blue, red and yellow. This is a triad combination and should create a vibrant image but the blue is too strong and cooling down the whole image. I could change the white balance but then all the tones would be uniformly warm. An option can be to add warmth to the highlights through a yellowish tone. In doing this the blue is nearly all gone, so I keep a slight blue in the shadows and balance the split toning more towards the highlights. Creating a much more pleasing image.

With this image there is a lot of green in the background and the purple is less intense because of the green suffocating it. To balance the colours, I looked at the colour wheel and saw the purple in the flowers works with green and a red orange in a split complementary combination.  The greens in the background were in the highlights so I added an orange/red to create a more harmonious image. The red in this tone also helps cancel out some of the green as well since they are complementary. This creates a much more vibrant image.

This picture was taken during a warm sunset which shines through the picture but the blacks feel too hard for this image. A quick look at the colour wheel and the warm sunset light is between an orange and a yellow, a colour between blue and violet would be fine as a complementary colour to soften the shadows and create a pleasing effect.

The original picture had a soft violet colour that was getting lost in the highlights. Wanting to add it back in I used split toning. I chose a purple tone for the highlights, but it was washing out the whole image. I then moved the balance to the shadows leaving the highlights slightly touched by the tone and a soft purple glow.

Yellow and greens go well with each other in nature. The greens in the back ground where lack lustre and were affecting the whole pleasantness of the picture. I added greens to the shadows and balanced towards the highlights creating a much more pleasing colour pallet for the whole image.

Photographing the Annual Light Festival can be a real pain, different light sources, different light colours, high ISO, and people getting in the way. One of the big issues is light pollution in the night’s sky. Before we move onto adjustment tools we can solve this problem with split toning.  Adding blue to the shadows and tweaking the balance can help reduce the orange light polluted sky. The blues were over powering the warm colour of the lights on the building, I added a warm tone to the highlights to bring some balance to the tones.

When to add split toning?

This is a tool you use when you want to bring your picture together as a finishing touch. Not all pictures need split toning but many do, even if it is to add a single colour to the shadows or highlights. A good indication that you need to split tone is when you say, “I wish the highlights were warmer”, or “the green is too over powering”; head to split toning.

Keeping an eye on the colour wheel as you work, it can be a great help in trying to get the right tone that will work with your image.

Next week I will be looking at adjustment tools and how to add some more depth to a picture.

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

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If you wish to get notifications when I post on my blog, you can follow me on Twitter@apertureF64, on or alternatively be emailed by subscribing below. All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer. For more information please read my Copyright Statement

21 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom; Lightroom and Camera Raw Split Toning

  1. I didn’t know about the color effect using the Lr split tone. This is a well-explained instruction, another great Lr lesson. Thank you for your effort, Ben!

  2. Very well explained lesson on split toning, I never realised that it could be used on colour too. Your Lightroom tutorials are excellent, it makes me want to find out more! Thank you for enlightening us!

  3. This is a great tutorial! I never understood how to use the split toning, now I think I do. Your images really help to understand why you would want to learn too. Thanks. 😀

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