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Split Toning and Duotone Effects in Camera Raw

Split toning is a feature borrowed from Photoshop’s younger cousin Photoshop Lightroom (the photography workflow application), where it’s gained lots of fans. What it does is lets you apply one tint to your photo’s highlights, and one tint to your photo’s shadow areas, and you even can control the saturation of each tint and the balance between the two for some interesting effects. If you’re not a fan of the split-toned look, you can still use split toning to easily create a duotone effect from right within Camera Raw.

Step One

Creating split-toning effects (which used to be a traditional darkroom technique) is now incredibly easy and, although split-toning effects can be applied to both color and B&W photos, you probably see it most often applied to a B&W image. Here’s the original full-color image (if you look at the sliders, you can see where I tweaked the photo to look good in color, but we’re going to convert it to black and white, so those settings probably won’t do much good). Start by converting it to grayscale in the HSL/Grayscale panel (the fourth icon from the left at the top of the Panel area). Just turn on the Convert to Grayscale checkbox at the top of the panel.

Step Two

Once the photo was converted to black and white (as shown here), it looked pretty flat to me, so I increased the Fill Light, Contrast, and Blacks amounts quite a bit, so it looked like the image you see here. Now, click on the Split Toning icon at the top of the Panel area (it’s circled in red here). At this point, dragging either the Highlights or Shadows Hue slider does absolutely nothing because, by default, the Saturation sliders are set to 0. Luckily, there is a hidden tip that will let you temporarily see the hues at their full saturation as you drag: just press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key, then click-and-drag.

Step Three

Once you find a highlight hue you like, release the Option (PC: Alt) key and drag the Highlights Saturation slider to the right. The further you drag, the more saturated your highlight tint becomes. Once that’s in place, do the same thing with the Shadows Hue slider (press-and-hold the Option key, drag the Hue slider to pick your hue, then release the Option key, and slowly drag the Shadows Saturation slider to the right). In the example shown here, we have a yellow tint in the highlights and a blue tint in the shadows. I know what you’re thinking, “Scott, I’m not sure I like split toning.” I hear ya—it’s not for everybody, and it’s definitely an acquired taste (and I’m not quite sure I’ve acquired it yet), but some people love ’em. There’s a name for these people. Freaks! (Kidding.)

Step Four

There is one more control—a Balance slider which lets you control whether your split tone favors your highlight or shadow color. Just drag left, then back right, and you’ll instantly see what this slider does. Although I’m not personally a fan of split-toning effects, I do use the Split Toning panel for something else—creating duotones. All you have to do is use the exact same Hue setting for the Highlights as you do the Shadows, then lower the Saturation of both the Highlights and Shadows until it looks like a duotone. In the example shown here, I set both the Highlights and Shadows Hue sliders to 50, then I lowered the Saturation of both to around 20 or 21, and that gives you the nice duotone effect you see here.

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