Everything to Know About Split Toning on Mobile - Enlight Leak
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Everything to Know About Split Toning on Mobile

January 21, 2016

Split toning’s roots stretch back to the earliest days of photography and it’s a technique that mobile photographer can take advantage of, too! Hidden within Enlight’s expansive toolset, is Split Tone, a humble feature you can use to make your images more vibrant, or more retro, or more cinematic, or more unique.

Quick Color Theory

Have you ever noticed how movies these days seem to be awash in a two-toned palette of orange and teal? If you haven’t yet, you will now.
split tone

Image from tvtropes.org


Still don’t believe me? Check this out.

It’s no accident. Orange and teal are what we call “complementary colors” – meaning they sit opposite one another in the color wheel. Color theory states that complementary colors tend to “pop” more, because the contrast between them is greatest. (Ever wonder why red and green christmas sweaters seem so garish? Yup. Complementary colors.)

split tone

Since films tend to include people, and many people tend to have variations of orangey skin tones, teal makes sense as a go-to secondary color on film. So editors will often “wash” their films in orange and teal, usually splitting this wash between the shadows and highlights. This process, therefore, is known as “split-toning.”

Split-toning has been popularized by one-stop editing apps like Instagram for its ability to capture the “retro” style. (It’s true! Much of Instagram’s filters’ “secret sauce” is in coloring the shadows and highlights separately.) But in fact, split-toning has a rich history, dating to the early days of film photography.

Back then, photographers discovered that although they were working in black and white, they could introduce more subtle tones into their images through some tricks of the trade. Those sepia images we immediately associate with “the olden days?” Split tone. Traditionally, the photographers mixed in sepia-toned chemicals to tint the highlights, and gray ones on the shadows and midtones.

Split Tone

A traditional sepia-toned photograph from 1895


Today, you don’t need to worry about smelly, toxic chemicals to achieve the split-toned effect. You have access to an endless variety of colors, all in the palm of your hand. Viva la mobile photography!

Let’s Take it For a Spin

I’ll make the basic adjustments to my photo first: correct the exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows. Once the image seems to stand on its own, I’ll hop over to Split Tone to complete the transformation.Select Image and tap on Adjust. Select the Tools tab, and you’ll find Split Tone. Once you select it, you can start playing with your image.

The Darks Hue and Lights Hue options are your tools for selecting your color palette. You can color your image however you’d like, but let’s get started with the “straight out-of-the-box” settings first. By default, the Darks Hue is set to 0° (in the red/orange family), and the Light Hue is set to 240° (among the blues). This means that the shadows (darks) of your photo will be toned with some orange (effectively making them “warmer”), and the highlights (lights) of your photo will be tone with some blue (effectively making them “cooler”). These values are a great way to start – as we discussed above, orange and teal are a classic combination.

To see the effect, raise the values of the Darks and Lights options – this is where you choose the strength of each of the tones. They start at 0, which means they have no effect. Tap it, and swipe to the right to raise the value and see your tone tint your image.

Don’t confuse Darks (where you set the strength of the tone) with Darks Hue (where you set the color of the tone) – same goes for Lights and Lights Hue. You can use the Balance tool to shift the “weight” of the toning to either the Lights Hues or the Darks Hues. Swiping to the right will increase the Dark Hues across the image, while swiping to the left will boost the Lights.

Still confused? Here’s a cheat sheet:

: Set the strength of the tones for your shadows.
Darks Hue: Set the hue of the tones for your shadows. (By default, in the oranges.)
Balance: Set the weight of the split tones. “0” makes them 50/50.
Lights: Set the strength of the tones for your highlights.
Lights Hue: Set the hue of the tones for your highlights. (By default, in the blues.)

Split Tone

It’s Getting Warm in Here. Or Cool.

The Split -Tone tool allows you to try an endless variety of treatments to your photo. Adding oranges to your darks (by setting the Darks Hue to an orange shade, say 10°, and raising the Darks value), will make your image “warmer”.

Adding blues by selecting blue tones in Lights Hue, say 240°, and increasing the Lights value will make it “cooler”. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to process the tones of your photo – they simply realize different visions.

In this example, I used the Mask tool to remove the purplish tones from my model’s hair. First I modified image using the tools found in Split Tone.

Then, I simply tapped the Mask tab in the bottom right corner (before tapping the checkmark to apply) and with Erase chosen, wipe your finger over the sections that you don’t want split-toned.


Although orange-in-highlights & teal-in-shadows is one of the most popular looks – especially for portraits – (and it’s Enlight’s default setting), you can try any combination of colors you can imagine. You can add teal to your shadows, and orange to your highlights. Or purple to both! The possibilities are endless.

For example, you can easily play with the brilliant colors of a sunset, changing the effect of your image in just a few swipes. Try setting both your Lights Hue and Darks Hue to various levels from the red family, for a more dramatic look:

Darks: 46, Dark Hue: 0°, Balance: 0, Lights: 52, Light Hue:10°

Black & White. And Toned.

To take this effect even further, try applying the split tone technique to black and white photos. This will lend your photo a more subtle processing than simply black and white, while still affording the aesthetic benefits of a monochrome photo.

Darks: 88, Dark Hues: 0°, Balance: 42, Lights: 29, Light Hues:16°

This one is probably a bit heavier on the reds than I would normally choose, but I wanted to make sure you see the transformation.

Take it Away!

Even if you don’t experiment with split-toning, keeping the color wheel in mind – and complementary colors, in particular – is a great tool for the mobile photographer. Keep a look out for complementary colors hanging out together in the world around you. By reducing the other colors in the scene, so the viewer’s eye is drawn particularly to those complementary colors, you can create a truly compelling scene.
split-tone processing

It’s not surprising that color can play such an integral part of photography. Understanding the theory behind it, and how to leverage complementary colors and split toning tool, can help take your work to the next level.

Shai Davis
Shai Davis

Shai Davis is a photographer, educator, and entrepreneur. Over the past several years, he has taught thousands of aspiring artists from all over 35 countries how to use their lenses - whether attached to DSLRs or phones - to capture their worlds and imaginations. With a degree in Visual Arts from Harvard, Shai is a lifelong shutterbug. Follow him on Instagram at @shaidavis.

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