WHY SPLIT TONING
WHY NOT USE FULL COLORS OR SINGLE TONING LIKE SEPIA?
Like it is indicated in the previous paragraph, colors aren’t a step away from reality and colors will make the detection of luminance differences nearly impossible, therefore creating depth in an image, or in objects in an image, becomes less accurate and much harder. My goal is not only to move away from reality, as many steps as possible, by removing colors and enter a world that gets meaning and depth from the differences in luminance, but also to create presence: exaggerate or distort the perception of depth to enhance aesthetics.
Single toning like sepia to add colors to a monochromatic photograph isn’t the solution for me: it would be the same as pure black and white but with another base, single, color. It would still be monochromatic. While the added interest of working with split toning is that there are always at least two colors that are added in a meaningful way and that those colors can accentuate a contrast, a focal point or a symbolic meaning.
Selective coloring is an entirely different matter and is not the type of subtle aesthetics I’m looking for. Basically you’re adding a color to an otherwise black and white photograph to add more focus to an area, but I find this focus very dominant and distracting.
SOME COLOR THEORY FOR BETTER SPLIT TONING
Now you know why you could consider split toning in a black and white photograph, we will get to the essence and I will explain how you can create the split tones. First I will show you how the creation of split toning is usually done in the digital darkroom and then I will suggest my method of split toning, which is a more subtle and controlled way of creating split tones. We’re not talking about split toning using the presets from plugins like Siler Efex Pro2 or Topaz, but about a manual, customized way. But before we do that a little bit of color theory and the color wheel for some insight into color harmony so you can make a better decision what colors to use for your custom made split tones.
The color wheel is an abstract model of colors, showing the relationships between primary, secondary and other colors, used by visual designers and artists as an aid to better understand and use colors in their creations. They do that by deriving color schemes from the color wheel, based on color theories, that suggest a combination of colors that are considered to be more aesthetic, harmonious or contrasting for example. Below I’ve depicted four commonly used examples of color schemes with a short description.
A few phrases you need to know to better understand the color schemes:
- primary colors are colors that cannot be mixed or formed by other colors are the colors red, yellow and blue.
- secondary colors are colors formed by mixing primary colors
- contrasting colors are colors that are not the same: the farther away the color is from the base color on the color wheel, the more contrasting. The exact opposite, and highest contrasting color on the color wheel is called a complementary color.
- analogous colors are colors that are adjacent to the base color on the color wheel
CREATING SPLIT TONES THE TRADITIONAL DIGITAL WAY
The most common way to create split tones is through the color balance feature in Photoshop. Here’s the concept in a nutshell:
- Create a fully processed black and white image
- Duplicate the layer
- Navigate to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance slider
- Select the Shadows radio button
- Add the desired color to the shadows by moving the sliders.
- Do the same for mid tones and highlights and then click OK – it needs to be emphasized to only click OK after you’ve adjusted the sliders for all three areas. See the three screenshots below where I selected a blue tone for shadows and very similar one for the mid tones and a warmer yellow/orange tone for the highlights.
You are done now. Usually the mid tones are assigned the same color as the shadow, but you’re free to do it differently as long as you keep in mind the Color Theory as a guideline. Using a complementary color scheme with cool tones for the shadows and mid tones and warm colors for the highlights is a good starting point.
This is the most used method and generally a good one, but looking at the way the colors are added by moving one or two sliders (very rarely moving the third slider will add to your goals) per tonal area, it is clear that you can’t choose the exact complementary color and that you can’t adjust the range of the shadows, mid tones or highlights. In case you have a very dark image you can only compensate it by over-saturating the highlights for example, else the selected tone for the shadows will dominate.
I’ve developed the following method that is more accurate and gives you more control over the range of shadows, mid tones or highlights.
CREATING SPLIT TONES THE MORE ADVANCED WAY
The method I’m presenting here is also the same method I’m using in the split toning presets in my Black and White fine art adjustments panel. The pros of this method compared to the normal method:
- You can exactly choose the right (complementary) color
- You can set the range of shadows, mid tones or highlights
- Unless you have an action set or a panel with which you can quickly create luminosity masks, you will need to create them manually and this will cost you a bit more time. I would recommend using an action set or purchase one of the panels that have the luminosity masks as a built-in feature.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES FOR SUBTLE SPLIT TONING
- For the shadows I would choose a saturation value between 10 and 25, regardless the hue. This because the darker you go, the more intense and saturated the colors will look, the more you need to compensate it.
- For the mid tones I would choose a saturation value between 15 and 30, regardless the hue.
- For the highlights I would choose a saturation value between 20 and 35, regardless the hue.
- Go with complementary, split-complementary or analogous color schemes for split-tones, or go with the triadic if you prefer. You can use the Adobe color wheel to exactly determine the complementary color.
- You can also change the lightness in the Hue/Saturation panel in case you want to increase/decrease the contrasts.
Of course you can deviate from these principles and experiment away as much as you like, but try to maintain uniformity and consistency in aesthetics throughout your work.
- Create a black and white image as usual and make it final.
- Create a set of luminosity masks with at least 4 lights, 4 darks and 1 mid tones from the finished black and white image – not the original color version! This is different from using luminosity masks for ‘normal’ image editing where you always need to create a full set of luminosity masks from the original color version.
- Duplicate the layer – this will be your only working layer to which you apply all split tones.
- Now you have a set of luminosity masks that you will use to add the color tones. Which luminosity masks should be used? That depends on the effect you want to have and also on the type of image. A low-key image needs a different choice of luminosity masks than a high-key image. Here are a few guidelines:
- For the average image, selecting Luminosity masks Lights3, Darks3 and Mid tones1 (it’s never another mid tones mask) is usually a good and subtle choice. I would never recommend using Lights1 and Darks1: the added split tones wouldn’t be subtle enough and would be too dominant. Alternatively choosing Lights2, Darks2 and Mid tones1 is also a good starting point, albeit a little less subtle.
- For a low-key image the suggested selection would be: Lights2, Darks3 and Mid tones1 to give the split tone in the limited highlights a more visible range.
- For a high-key image the suggested selection would be: Lights3, Darks2 and Mid tones1, again to balance it out better.
- You could also select Lights4 or Darks4 in some cases for more subtlety
- The above are all rough guidelines, it largely depends on the personal taste and the effect you want to achieve. Just experiment but stay subtle!
- If your image mode is set to Gray Scale, then make sure you first set it to RGB and preferably 16 bits by navigating to Image > Mode.
- Load luminosity mask Darks3 (you can also start with Lights, whatever you prefer)
- While still loaded, navigate to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. This will show the Hue/Saturation panel.
- Tick the Colorize box – this will change the Hue slider to go from 0 to 360, indicating all possible hues that are available on the color wheel.
- Choose the color you want to add to the shadows, then click OK.
- Repeat step 6 to 9 for Lights3 and Mid tones1 and add the colors for those areas to the same layer. You’re done now.
To illustrate steps 6 to 9 more clearly I’ve used the example photo of the Eye Amsterdam, with example recipe below according to my general principles for subtle split toned black and white images. Keep in mind these general principles are based on my personal and artistic preferences.
After executing steps 1 to 5 in the workflow the following is a visual representation of steps 6 to 9 for each tonal area after loading the indicated luminosity masks first.
ONE MORE THING
Actually a few more things. The split tone recipe used for the example is a split tone recipe that I’ve called the Gotham preset in the Black and White Quick Adjustments Panel based on complementary subtle split tones. There are other interesting split toning presets in the Black and White panel so if you don’t feel like creating split tones yourself, you could consider the panel. If you have an interesting recipe to share with the public, then leave it in the comment boxes below while indicating the luminosity masks used and the exact Hue, Saturation and Lightness settings.
Finally, I hope you will find that this way of creating split tones gives you more predictable, accurate and also more subtle results and perhaps I’ve also convinced you that using split toning as a final touch to a black and white image, can add a mood or symbolic meaning that you might otherwise miss in a normal black and white image.
If you want to know more about my Black and White workflow, use of luminosity masks or fine art photography in general then I can highly recommend the eBook From Basics to Fine-art, that I co-wrote with Julia Anna Gospodarou