Split-toning is the process of tinting the highlights and shadows in an image. It allows you to change the feel of an image and to apply color theory into an image in a subtle way. Complimentary colors that sit opposite in the color wheel, like yellow and blue or green and magenta, are most often used. Different color combinations will create different moods.
The simplest way to accomplish split-toning is by using the sliders in the Camera Raw Filter. Here is an image of a cold February Day at the Harbor in Duluth, MN.
To give a sense of winter in this image a pale yellow/blue combination works well. Run the highlight slider somewhere around 55 (see the settings image below). To use the opposite color on the color wheel add 180 to the 55 to get a cool blue of 235. The saturation is turned up to 100 below to show you where those colors are applied to the image.
Back the saturation on both highlights and shadows to where they look good and adjust the Balance slider too. Here is the finished image with the split-toning.
Split-toning with solid color layer adjustments
In the layers panel add a solid color layer. An orange color will warm the image. First move the cursor up to the top right in the color picker window.
Then change blending modes to Exclusion. The Exclusion blending mode is one of two Inversion blending modes, and it automatically uses the opposite color for your shadows. Double click on the solid color layer to open up the color picker window and move your cursor around to see how the colors and tones affect your image. Notice how I’ve dropped the color picker cursor down around half way on the right side in the window. The layer opacity is always useful here too.
Split-toning with curves layer adjustment
On the top layer, add the Curves Layer Ajustment and in the RGB drop down box choose one of the colors. On the Curves diagonal line over the histogram any point above the diagonal will add more Red, Green or Blue color while values below will add the opposite color. The left side applies to shadows and the right side highlights.
Using a blue/yellow combination here differences slightly from the one used in the first example above. A simple reverse s-curve will work to add the yellows to the highlights and blues to the shadows. Click the exact center of the blue diagonal to leave a point there. Next grab point between that center point at the top of the line and pull it down a little bit. Then, for the shadows grab a point between the center and the bottom and pull it slightly upwards.
Split-toning with gradient map layer adjustment
Split toning on a black and white image can really transform the feel of the image and works great using a Gradient Map Layer Adjustment. This way to split toning an image gives you the most versatility in terms of color combinations and how they get applied to an image.
In the layer panel add a Gradient Map layer and double click to open the layer properties and choose any two-color gradient preset. Click on each of the bottom stops and then click in the color box for each to bring up the color picker. This is where the option of choosing any color combination you may want. To give this image an antique look Ill choose a dark teal (#0b2840) and a sandy tan (#cfaa86) for this image.
Now change the layer blend mode to Overlay. A Soft Light blend mode will work with this process too. Then adjust the opacity as needed.
These were 4 simple ways to use split toning to make images stand out. Use split toning color combinations to adjust the warmth or coolness of an image. Images can look cinematic or like old film. These also work great when working with models because split toning doesn’t effect skin colors. Have fun exploring these creative processes that can transform the mood of your images.