I have kind of a love-hate relationship with split toning. I love the work I see others doing with it, but for me, it never really gives me what I want. I guess I need more practice. But Evan Ranft (formerly, Evan 5ps) has a handy little tutorial for dealing with split toning in Adobe Lightroom. The technique should work exactly the same way in Adobe Camera Raw, too.
Evan says the main advantage of split toning for him is that it allows him to give his images a great look without having to dive deep into colour channel adjustments. They also help to give a consistent and uniform feel between multiple images, even when the originals are vastly different. And they can be applied fairly quickly, too.
The split toning panel is fairly simple, consisting of just five sliders. The top two control the hue and saturation of the highlights, the bottom two control the hue and saturation of the shadows, and the slider in the middle alters the balance of the two.
You’ll note in the screenshot above that there are two grey boxes next to the “Highlights” and “Shadows” labels. Clicking on those will bring up a dialogue that lets you visually click and drag around to alter the colour and see the change in real-time on your image. Evan begins by setting the colour for his highlights. He picks a blueish colour, with a medium saturation.
He then goes onto tone the shadows, favouring a hue on the opposite side of the colour wheel to that which he used for his highlights. These opposite colours often work very well to compliment each other.
So, it’s just a case of finding a balance that works for you. It ultimately boils down to personal taste. You might even find that once you’ve set your balance you want to make further tweaks to the highlight and shadow colours slightly, too. Ultimately resulting in a look that pleases you.
From here, once you’ve got split tone settings you’re happy with, you can simply copy and paste the setting to other images, or you can make a preset.
I still can’t get Lightroom or ACR’s split toning to work for me. I prefer to do it in Photoshop with a curves adjustment. But, maybe I just need more practice.