Thursday, October 18, 2012

RAW Processing in Lightroom 4: Split Toning

Today I would like to introduce you to the possibilities and advantages of using the Split Toning Panel when developing RAW files with Adobe Lightroom 4. In my previous Blogs I had focused on the Basic Panel and the HSL Panel of the Develop Module:

Lightroom 4 - My RAW Processing Workflow
Example: RAW Processing in Lightroom 4

This time the focus will be on the next step: Finetuning your image by tweaking the overall hue and saturation for the highlights and the shadows of a photograph - and defining how to actually distinguish between 'Highlights' and 'Shadows' by means of balancing the two with a separate slider in the Split Toning Panel.

But before we get into these details, let's begin with a little refresher on what to do before we get to working on the Split Toning Panel. For this little tutorial I decided to use an image I recently took of the Dubai Skyline when it was partially covered by fog at sunrise. I substantially worked with Split Toning on this one so I thought it would serve as a good example.

This is what the image looked like straight out of the camera when I imported it into Lightroom 4:

ISO 200, 116mm, f11, 1/40s, 5600K, Tint -1

Briefly: Basic Panel and HSL Panel 

It is pretty obvious that this image needs to be properly developed in a RAW Converter for it to shine. These are the settings I applied to it in the Basic Panel and the HSL Panel (Note that all sliders are set to zero by default, the default color temperature as per the automatic white balance was 5600K and Tint was -1):

(For details on how to deal with the Basic Panel click HERE)

(For details on how to work with the HSL Panel clicke HERE)

Applying the above settings left me with this result:

Some significant improvement is already visible, as the image already shows a lot more contrast, saturation and clarity. However, the tonal range still appears to be a bit uniform and dull. And this is exactly where Split Toning comes into play!

In Detail: The Split Toning Panel

So what exactly is "Split Toning"? To be honest, until recently neither did I have an idea what this Panel is all about. But believe me, just play with it for a while, try it out on a few pictures - and you will be amazed! 

Basically, as the term indicates, Split Toning separates the Histogram of an image into two ranges: Highlights and Shadows. This is the Panel with its default settings:

The "Balance" slider allows you to define which parts of an image are being allocated to "Highlights" and which to "Shadows". But we'll take a closer look at this in a minute. First of all, move any of the "Hue" sliders and you will notice: No change at all!

This is because "Saturation" is set to zero. Therefore, I recommend sliding "Saturation" up to somewhere around 20 in order to be able to see the effects applied to the "Hue" sliders. You may also click on the small grey box next to where it says "Highlights" and "Shadows" and it will open a new dialogue. However, I find that dialogue rather confusing to work with and it only offers the exact same functionality as the aforementioned sliders do.

Now start playing with the sliders and try to get a grip on what happens with your photograph. After a few minutes I came up with the following settings for my picture:

You will notice that the little grey boxes have changed their colors as per the settings of the "Hue" sliders. They now give you a rough idea of what I am after: I want to make the shadows of my picture look cool and blueish while enhancing the warm pinkish glow of the morning sun in the highlights of the photograph, such as the clouds, the sky and the top of the buildings. Here's the image after applying the above settings:

Now, that's very pink, isn't it. This is why we should also use the "Balance" slider! It allows you to define what is to be regarded as "Highlights" - it actually balances the split in the toning and is very important. See what I did:

...And what this shift of "Balance" to a value of -85 did to my image:

As you can see the balance shift has changed the appearance of my picture in a way which applies the pink hue of the "Highlights" only to the sky, the clouds and the tips of the buildings - as I had actually intended it.

Going the extra Mile: Control Points in Viveza 2

I am still not entirely happy with the picture, because the sky is not saturated sufficiently for my liking. I am still missing the icing on my cake, so to speak. For finishing the image I used a very nice and immensely powerful software called "Viveza 2" by Nik Software (which, nonetheless, I rarely do). This software offers incredible possibilities of changing the luminance, contrast, saturation and clarity of any part and aspect of an image by applying so-called "Control Points". These Control Points sort of substitute the godawful task of masking in Photoshop and, instead, provide great freedom to let your creativity go crazy beyond limits. However, I prefer to use them very subtly and only when I believe they are really required.

If you have Viveza 2 you can use it as a Plug-In in Lightroom. Just choose "Photo" --> "Edit In" --> "Viveza 2" in the Lightroom menu and a TIFF with all Lightroom changes applied will open in Viveza 2. This is what the interface looks like (I only have the German version):

The black oval in the upper right corner shows where to click for adding a new Control Point. Feel free to add as many as you need and adapt their size, i.e. the area of the image each of them will have an effect on. Depending on where you place it a Control Point will recognize that specific hue and the allocated image area (one of the Control Point sliders allows you to define its size) and then apply all changes made only to that specific tonal range and area. It is simply amazing how reliable this is! And plus, without any recognizable loss in quality!

For my image I chose to apply 4 Control Points. Here they are in detail:

1. A rather large one, covering the sky and increasing saturation on the same
2. A smaller one, covering the three buildings on the upper left, giving them a bit more clarity
3. A rather tiny one for the building in the middle, in order to make it look a bit more distinct by increasing clarity
4. And one applied to the clouds in the lower right corner, in order to slightly increase their luminance and clarity

And this is it, the final result:

I hope you liked this tutorial and it could give you some inspiration on how to move forward with processing your images! If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a message.

Further information about my photography and more resources:



  1. I always wondered what split toning was myself haha Now I will have to play with it knowing how it works.

    Nice little tutorial as it isn't too technical.. These images you guys got from Dubai are very cool.

    1. Thanks, glad you find it useful :)


  2. What an amazing blog this one, plenty of information. But what disappoints me is the lack of comments. How much you put your heart into this, but there is nobody to appreciate it. I feel really bad.

    But my friend, you are doing a great job. Dont know abt others, but I will be there as a strong pillar of support for you from now onwards.

    With respect,

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, MANU :) Highly appreciated!


  3. Ein toller Blog mit tollen Tipps.
    Besonders das Split Toning sieht vielversprechend aus, vlt werde ich es mir demnächst mal an einer Reihe verinnerlichen.

    Wolf Niklas

  4. Very nicely done Sebastian , I had to copy and save this as word doc to be able to use in my next trial.

  5. Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic post.Thanks Again. Fantastic.

  6. Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic post.Thanks Again. Fantastic.