Color toning B&W images in Lightroom

Header color toning

Many times users have come across sepia tinted images with such pure color that makes you wonder how it was taken. As an option nowadays with Smartphones is using a Sepia Filter while taking a shot (Android cellphones only. There I found the only thing I am missing after I switched to Apple) this won’t work for DSLR cameras since they don’t have built the option for adding filters. Also, if you create the sepia tint that way, you may end up losing information or even burning the image in the process of achieving a good tint.

Now I want to show you how you can create sepia and other tints for colour toning your B&W images inside Lightroom.

I start the process by using this very image, which I will make it B&W via Lightroom Presets.
Then, the interesting part of our process comes at this very panel.


Yes, the Split Toning panel. This fantastic tool that often becomes neglected by many users is actually one of the best elements built inside Lightroom.

Split toning for B&W images – What is our aim?

Split toning works in two ways: Highlights and Shadows. For both of this options you have:

  • Color picker box
  • Hue slider
  • Saturation slider

And to put it in few words, depending on the kind you look you want to get is the tone you want to alter. For example, if I wanted to create an ancient picture look, then I will change the tone under Highlights. The reason? Sometimes ancient pictures tend to have a sort of “washed out” look (mostly for not being properly stored) and that kind of effect is what Lightroom gives us if we play with the Highlight values, plus adding a tint. On the other hand, adjusting the Shadows gives us modern looking images, or even monumental ones, as we can see if we have a macro shot of a statue and we start adding tint to the shadows.

In my opinion, I like better the effect Split Toning has with Shadows. And that will be the aim of this tutorial.


You can start by clicking the color picker box and go for a tint. As you can see, only by selecting the tint, the whole image changes immediately. But there are some elements you should consider when doing this task:

  • Hue: Hue is the slider that will determine your tint for the image. You can vary the hue using the sliders or via the color picker box. There is no “correct” method for doing the task, just the one you feel comfortable with.
  • Saturation: Our main actor here. Saturation will determine how strong the tint effect becomes to the picture. Values over 50 are likely to give the image a huge “punch” of color, whereas values nearing 0 make the tint hardly noticeable.


By playing with these two sliders you can create an infinite variety of effects, but there is also another element you should consider: Balance slider.

The Balance slider works preserving the Midtones untouched. If you move the slider towards zero, the effect of the Shadows split toning becomes more prominent, and if you go towards 100 the effect fades. The opposite effect would happen if we were working with Highlights instead of Shadows. I only alter Balance if I feel the image needs an extra tint, otherwise with Hue and Saturation is more than plenty.


In case you feel like you want to reset the effect to its original state, just double-click over the tone you are altering (Highlights or Shadows) and the image will look just as it was prior the Split toning adjustment.

Another fantastic thing that can be done after doing this adjustments is saving the procedure as a Preset. To do so you just need to click at the ‘plus’ icon next to Presets, and this will open the Create New Preset dialog box. Uncheck all and tick only the option for Split Toning if you just want to create a tint effect preset. Later on I can export the preset for sharing it over the community.


Now imagine I want to use the preset I created with another picture; I only need to open the file and go to the Develop tab. Then, at the Presets panel search for User Presets and locate the preset you created. You can then apply the preset regardless the image is B&W or color tinted. Below is a comparison between each approach.


And remember, presets are accumulative, meaning you can select a preset and then apply another one above it. Combination of presets is what makes Lightroom and your work shine, and here you can take a look at stunning presets for enhancing your work.

Good luck and happy editing!

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