Split Toning with Blending Modes :: Tutorial :: Photoshop CS2, Photoshop CS3, Photoshop CS4, and Photoshop CS5
www.ImagingRandR.comFor split toning black-and-white images, I typically recommend the excellent Split Toning feature in Camera Raw or Lightroom. But as effective as that feature is, split toning with those simple sliders feels a little like driving an automatic – it’s easy but you don’t really get a feel for the road. Here’s an alternate way to split tone black-and-white images in Photoshop. This method gives you a tremendous number of options, and different “looks” as well, via Solid Color layers and layer blending modes.
Convert to black-and-white with an adjustment layer
Split toning is a technique for black-and-white images where one tint is added to the highlights and another to the shadows. I like the traditional approach of adding a sepia or gold tone to the highlights, and a cyan tone to the shadows. The warm highlights leap off the page and the cooler shadow tones recede, potentially yielding a black-and-white image with great visual depth.
We’ll start the process by converting a color image to black-and-white using a Black & White adjustment layer in Photoshop. (Note: if you have a version of Photoshop earlier than CS3 you can use a Channel Mixer adjustment layer for this step.)
Step 1: With your color image open in Photoshop, add a Black & White adjustment layer from the Adjustments panel (pictured), or from the adjustment layer menu at the bottom of the Layers panel (the little black-and-white half-moon icon at the bottom of Layers).
Choose the “targeted adjustment tool” in the Black & White adjustment panel (or dialog for CS3) and drag in the image to refine your black-and-white photograph. You’ll generally want good separation of tones where possible so that the previously colorful elements don’t blend into each other in the black-and-white image.
Add a Solid Color adjustment layer for Highlights
Step 2: Choose a Solid Color adjustment layer from the adjustment layer menu at the bottom of the Layers panel. (Tip: there is no Solid Color icon in the Adjustments panel so don’t bother to go there looking for it.) You’ll find Solid Color at the top of the list of adjustments in the adjustment layers menu, and upon choosing it, the Color Picker will appear. Choose an amber, sepia, or gold color from the Hue slider in the Color Picker. (Note: even though the adjustment layer is called a Solid Color layer in the adjustment layers menu, the layer will have the name “Color Fill”.)
Step 3: Once you choose the color and click OK in the Color Picker, the adjustment layer will be applied full throttle – err – at 100% opacity and Normal blending mode, filling the canvas with that color. But we want to apply the Solid Color layer with a blending mode, so from the blending mode menu at the top of the Layers panel (which by default is in “Normal” mode) choose Darken. Darken mode applies the color only to pixels that are lighter than the color, in order to darken them. So pixels that are lighter than the sepia color will be blended into the sepia tint.
Step 4: Lower the Opacity of the sepia colored Solid Color layer to 20%, from the Opacity slider or numerical field a the top of the Layers panel. This takes down the intensity of the sepia color to simply tint the highlights in the image. For a very more subtle tint you can lower the Opacity to 15%.
Add a Solid Color adjustment layer for Shadows
Step 5: Now repeat Steps 2 and 3, except this time choose a cyan color from the Color Picker. Then instead of choosing Darken mode in Step 3, choose Lighten from the blending mode menu at the top of Layers. This applies the cyan color only to pixels that are darker than the color – in other words to the shadow tones. At 100% opacity the result will be too much tint though.
Step 6: Lower the Opacity of the cyan colored Solid Color layer to 20% or less. The effect will be a rich cyan tint to the shadows, and the combined result a nicely split toned image.
Alternate effects with layer blending modes
The straightforward Lighten and Darken blending modes aren’t the only layer blending modes that blend colors into the shadows and highlights in an image. Try out other blending modes in the Lighten and Darken groups of the layer blending modes for different split toning “looks”. For the above split toning I used Color Burn blending mode for the sepia color layer and Color Dodge blending mode for the cyan color layer.
While I usually stress simplicity, this method of split toning yields terrific results. If you do want simpler split toning, go ahead and use the split toning sliders in Camera Raw or Lightroom. But with Photoshop layers you have room to play, layer masks if you want to be more selective about where your toning is applied, and all the other tools in Photoshop at your disposal. Enjoy!