How to Tone Black & White Photos in Lightroom Classic with the Color Grading Panel

How to Tone Black & White Photos in Lightroom Classic with the Color Grading Panel


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If you’ve upgraded to Lightroom Classic 10.0 you may have noticed that Adobe has replaced the Split Toning panel with a new Color Grading panel.

You may even have delayed the upgrade because you don’t know whether your presets will work. Or if Lightroom Classic still recognizes your split toned photos. The good news is that your presets and photos aren’t affected by the change (full details below). So go ahead, make the upgrade and enjoy Lightroom Classic’s new tools.

The Color Grading panel is a big improvement on the old Split Toning panel, especially for toning black and white photos. We’ll cover that in detail in this tutorial, with some examples at the end.

Note: Lightroom 6 users – if you’re looking for information about the Split Toning panel, you’ll find it in the article linked below.


Learn more: Split Toning Black & White Photos in Lightroom 6


Why do photographers tone black and white photos?

In the chemical darkroom photographers used toners to extend the life of the print. But in digital photography toning has no archival benefits, so why do it? The answer is that toning adds mood, atmosphere and depth to your black and white photos.

Portrait photographers use sepia tones because they add warmth to portraits and flatter the model. The same technique works with other genres such as landscapes. Or you can tone a landscape photo blue or purple to add a sense of coldness or loneliness.

The photos below show how applying different tones changes the look and mood of a black and white image.

Toning black and white photos in Lightroom Classic
Toning black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

What’s new in the Color Grading panel?

The Color Grading panel (below) is a big change from the Split Toning panel. These are the improvements that make toning black and white photos better.

Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic

There are color wheels as well as sliders. If you’ve used color wheels in other applications you’ll feel right at home. If not, you’ll pick it up fast. The best way to learn is to get in there and start experimenting.

Tip: Make a Snapshot of your photo before you start experimenting with toning / color grading. It gives you a shortcut you can use to return to your starting point without getting lost in the History panel.


Learn more: Using Snapshots In Lightroom Classic


You can color grade the midtones. Now you can tone the midtones as well as the highlights and shadows. It may not sound like a big deal but it opens up interesting creative possibilities.

You can adjust Luminance. There’s no need to hop over to the Basic panel to adjust the brightness of the shadows, midtones or highlights. You can do it all right inside the Color Grading panel. It’s fast, convenient and helps you fine-tune your toning effects.

There’s a Blending slider. It controls how different tones applied to the photo blend into each other.

How to use the Color Grading panel

Start by selecting one of the color wheels from the Adjust menu (below). From right to left the options are 3-Way (the default view), Shadows, Midtones, Highlights and Global. For this example we’ll start with Shadows.

Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic

Select a specific color wheel to zoom into it (left, below). Click the disclosure triangle (marked left) to reveal the Hue and Saturation sliders. These are the same as those in the old Split Toning panel (right, below).

Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic

You can move the Hue and Saturation sliders (the old fashioned way) to apply a tone or you can use the color wheel. You can even use both as one changes when you adjust the other.

How color wheels work

Color wheels give you an easy and intuitive way to make adjustments. There’s an outside handle (it looks like a circle) that adjusts Hue, but not Saturation. The inside handle changes both Hue and Saturation.

Move either handle around the circle to adjust the Hue. Drag the inner handle towards the center of the circle to decrease Saturation. Move it towards the edge to increase it.

Use the Luminance slider to make the shadows darker or brighter. Remember you can only apply a tone to gray tones, not pure black or pure white tones. Making shadows lighter, for example, means you’ll see more color in the shadows. Making highlights darker means you’ll see more color there.

Double-click the slider name to reset the Hue, Saturation or Luminance sliders back to zero. Or reset all three in one go by double-clicking the color wheel name.

Color Grading panel shortcuts

There are a few handy shortcuts:

  • Click the inner handle without moving the mouse until a straight line appears (below left). Now you can move the handle in or out to adjust Saturation without affecting Hue. Holding the Shift key down does the same.
  • Hold the Cmd (Mac) | Ctrl (PC) key down and click on the inner handle. A circle appears, indicating you can change the Hue without affecting Saturation (below middle).
  • Hold the Alt key. Click on Reset Shadows to reset Hue, Saturation and Luminance to zero. Or click on Reset to reset all four color wheels (below right).
Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic
  • Click the color square (marked below) to bring up a set of five swatches you can use to set the color. Click a swatch to set the color. Right-click a swatch and select Set this Swatch to Current Color to replace it with the current color. This is an easy way to save your favorite colors.
  • Click the eye icon (also marked below) to turn the color wheel off so you can see the effect your toning settings have.
Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic

You can repeat this process with the Midtones and Highlights color wheels.

The Global color wheel

The Global color wheel applies a single tone across the entire tonal range of the photo. It gives you the option of making a quick and simple single change.

Note that the Global color wheel overlays the other color wheel settings. This is more useful when working in color than black and white.

The Blending and Balance sliders

The Balance slider lets you emphasize one color over another. Move the slider right and the Highlights color becomes stronger. Move it left and the Shadows color is strongest.

The Blending slider gives you control over how much the colors blend together.

Set it to zero to minimize the overlap between colors. This setting gives you the sharpest transition between your selected colors.

Set it to 100 to maximize the overlap. This setting gives you the smoothest transition.

The best way to understand how the two sliders work is to have a go. Make it easy to see the result by setting a blue tone for the shadows and a sepia tone for the highlights (ignore Midtones for the time being).

The photos below give you some examples. The settings I used were:

Shadows: Hue 238, Saturation 54, Luminance 0.

Highlights: Hue 52, Saturation 73, Luminance 0.

Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic
Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic
Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic
Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic
Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

I’ll leave you to experiment with photos with separate colors applied to the shadows, midtones and highlights!

Do my old presets and Split Toning settings work in Lightroom Classic 10?

The short answer is yes they do. Lightroom Classic converts your old split toning settings. It doesn’t affect the colors and your Develop Presets still work.

Note that Lightroom Classic sets the Blending slider to 100 as that’s the setting used under the hood in the Split Toning panel.

Why the Color Grading panel changes the game when it comes to toning black and white photos

There’s a good reason why the Color Grading panel is a game changer for toning black and white photos.

In the old Split Toning panel you could apply a tone to the shadows, or the highlights, or both.

So, for example, you could tone the shadows a certain color, and leave the highlights as white. Or you could tone the highlights and leave the shadows black.

Now with the Color Grading panel you can tone the midtones, and leave the shadows black and the highlights white.

Or you can apply one color to the shadows, another to the midtones, and leave the highlights white.

Besides that, you can adjust the brightness of each region with the Luminance slider.

So you can, for example, apply a tone to the shadows, then fine tune the effect by adjusting the luminance. It’s much easier than switching to the Basic panel.

The end result is that it opens up a whole range of beautiful yet subtle toning effects that weren’t possible before.

Toning / Color Grading examples

It’s time for some examples that show what you can do with the new Color Grading panel. None of the effects shown below were possible in the older Split Toning panel.

In the photo below I applied a sepia tone (Hue 62, Saturation 18) to the midtones. The shadows and highlights aren’t toned. The result is a subtle sepia tone that doesn’t reach the shadows or highlights.

Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

In the next example I applied a blue tone (Hue 242, Saturation 39) to the shadows and a sepia tone (Hue 55, Saturation 31) to the midtones. The highlights remain untoned.

Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

For this portrait I applied a sepia tone (Hue 15, Saturation 13) to the shadows and a different sepia tone (Hue 40, Saturation 40) to the midtones. Again the highlights are not toned.

Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

In the next photo I applied a blue tone (Hue 236, Saturation 14) to the shadows and a red tone (Hue 24, Saturation 26) to the highlights. The midtones aren’t toned.

Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

For the final photo I applied a purple-blue tone (Hue 261, Saturation 23) to the shadows and a sepia tone (Hue 58, Saturation 35) to the midtones. The highlights are not toned.

Color grading black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

Our SuperBlack presets for Lightroom Classic include 24 split toning presets. Click the link to learn more about them.

Further reading


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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, publisher, traveler, workshop leader and photographer based in the UK. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

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