Using the Split Toning Function in Lightroom

Across the Vineyard

Across the Vineyard

Pretty picture, isn’t it? A beautiful landscape of rich, fall colors and vineyards. Kinda makes you want to go drink some wine, maybe pull out a blanket in anticipation of colder days to come. Feels homey.

Straight from the camera, though, it was flat, bluish, not spectacular. I shot it with my 30-year-old 135mm lens, which brings my subjects in close, but being old, it’s pretty soft, and the color’s a little off. Like this:

Across the Vineyard, Unprocessed

Across the Vineyard, Unprocessed

So how did I get to the beautiful, final picture from this start? It’s a secret. But you’ll know that secret in mere minutes, and you can do the entire process in Adobe Lightroom.

First, I have a User Development Preset in Presence Adjustment that gives +28 Clarity, +20 Vibrance and +7 Saturation. I like the Clarity addition for the sharpness it gives to an image, Vibrance gives intensity to colors, and a little Saturation makes those colors richer as well. For years I’ve been making that adjustment, or something very similar, one slider tool at a time, and I finally realized a preset would make it one click. Occasionally I tweak the adjustment a little, but mostly I love the way it looks right off.

After that, I combated the blueness of the photo with a dance back and forth between the Temperature (yellow-blue) slider and the Tint (violet-green) slider. It was fairly quick, and got the color close to what I wanted. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave me a good starting point for the Secret Step.

To remove the hazy look, I made the shadows and blacks much denser, and brightened the whites and highlights. The 135 gives me a nearly perfect bell curve, right in the middle of my histogram. My blacks are never darker than a darkish gray, and my whites are never lighter than a lightish gray. It’s a great lens for making low-contrast images, but not for richness.

And now, for the Secret Step. I’ve started to use my Split Toning dialog box, for color photos. I’ve long used it to increase the interest in black & white photos, but I’ve only recently begun using it for color. I start from the highlights, increase the saturation to about 50%, then I start moving the slider until I get something that looks right. And it is always a little different. For this one, I took the slider way up into the indigo, with a color number of 230. I have no idea what the numbers mean (and that applies to pretty much any digital photography number that isn’t expressed as a percentage or 0-255), as they go 0-360, but I know when they look right. For the shadows, I took the slider to a beige sort of color, 29, right in the transition from red to orange. Then I play with the saturation levels of the highlight and shadow tints until I get the look that makes me happy. You can also play with the balance slider, which changes the relative importance of highlights to shadows, though I often leave that centered at 0.

My lens also introduces a touch of noise or graininess, and I wanted this to be very, very smooth, so I added just a bit of noise reduction. It gives a nice, sort of watercolor look to the photo.

And finally, the Ansel Adams touch. Burn in the corners a touch (or add a light vignette), and the viewers eyes are forced back to the center of the image for another look.

And that’s that. It takes far longer to type it out than to do it, and it does a lot to elevate the image from an “image file” to a photo.

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