How to Tone or Color Grade Black & White Photos in Lightroom Classic

Split Toning Black & White Photos in Lightroom 6


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It’s easy to add color to your black and white photos in Lightroom 6 using the Split Toning panel. But before we start, it’s helpful to understand why you might want to experiment with toning monochrome images.

Note: The Split Toning panel works exactly the same way for every version of Lightroom up to Lightroom Classic 9.

But if you have Lightroom Classic 10 (the October 2020 release or later) Adobe has replaced the Split Toning panel with the Color Grading panel. Follow the link below to read our tutorial about it.


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


Toning in the darkroom

Toning originated as a darkroom process designed to extend the longevity of black and white prints. Most chemical toners replace silver in the print with a silver compound. The silver compound is a different color, which (used properly) gives an aesthetically pleasing effect. Most silver compounds are also more stable than silver, so the print lasts longer.

Emotional value of toning

Nowadays digital split toning has no effect on print longevity, but it does have an aesthetic effect.

For example, sepia tones are often used by portrait photographers. It flatters the model and adds a sense of nostalgia and warmth.

Sepia toned portrait

Or you might apply a blue or purple tone to a stormy seascape or white winter landscape to emphasize the coldness or loneliness of the scene.

Blue toned landscape photo

Photographers with darkroom experience prefer to apply colors such as sepia, gold, copper, purple (selenium) and blue as they echo the colors and processes of chemical toners.

But you can experiment with different colors. There are no limits in the digital darkroom!

How to use the Split Toning panel in Lightroom 6

Before we start it should be noted that not all black and white photos are suitable for split toning. The best images are those with lots of dark tones (plus some highlights for contras).

Don’t forget you can use Virtual Copies to make several versions of the same photo, each with a different split tone. It’s easy to experiment and compare the results to see which ones you like best.

You can even turn your favorite split toning color combinations into Develop Presets so you can use them again whenever you want.

Split Toning panel Lightroom 6

The Split Toning panel (above) is easy to use. There are just four things you need to know.

  • The first pair of Hue and Saturation sliders sets the color applied to the photo’s highlights.
  • The second pair sets the color applied to the shadows.
  • The Balance slider gives precedence to either the highlight or the shadow color.
  • When you hold the Alt key down while moving the Hue slider, Lightroom 6 displays the Hue at 100% saturation. This helps you judge the color accurately.

Black and white split toning examples

Here are some examples. You can use these as starting points for split toning your black and white photos.

Note: To keep things simple the Balance slider is set to zero for all these examples.

Original photo: Untoned black and white (Highlights: Hue 0/Saturation 0 | Shadows: Hue 0/Saturation 0).

Untoned black and white photo

Example 1: Sepia tone applied to shadows only, leaving highlights unchanged (Highlights: Hue 0/Saturation 0 | Shadows: Hue 32/Saturation 20).

Split toned black and white photo

Example 2: Sepia tone applied to shadows and highlights (Highlights: Hue 56/Saturation 27 | Shadows: Hue 32/Saturation 20).

Split toned black and white photo

Example 3: Blue tone applied to shadows only, leaving highlights unchanged (Highlights: Hue 0/Saturation 0 | Shadows: Hue 244/Saturation 23).

Split toned black and white photo

Example 4: Blue tone applied to shadows, sepia tone applied to highlights (Highlights: Hue 39/Saturation 30 | Shadows: Hue 244/Saturation 23).

Split toned black and white photo

Example 4 shows the classic split tone look. Basic color theory says warm colors look closer to the viewer and cool colors further away. Applying a warm tone (sepia) to the highlights and a cool tone (blue) to the shadows uses this idea to add depth to black and white photos.

Example 5: Blue tone applied to shadows, copper tone applied to highlights (Highlights: Hue 24/Saturation 34 | Shadows: Hue 236/Saturation 27).

Split toned black and white photo

These settings emulate the blue and copper split tone effect that was possible to achieve in the chemical darkroom.

Example 6: Sepia tone applied to shadows, gold tone applied to highlights (Highlights: Hue 47/Saturation 52 | Shadows: Hue 36/Saturation 23).

Split toned black and white photo

This setting emulates the sepia and gold split tone effect that you can create in the chemical darkroom.

Those combinations should be enough to get you going. Of course you can experiment as much as you like with the sliders in the Split Toning panel to see what you can do.

Our SuperBlack Presets for Lightroom Classic include 24 split toning presets. Click the link to learn more or buy.

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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