Facebook Pixel Create Amazing Sunsets with Lightroom's Split Toning Tool

Create Amazing Sunsets with Lightroom’s Split Toning Tool

A Guest Post by Andy Briggs.

One of the challenges of landscape photography is that it’s so dependant on the changing weather. This is particularly true when shooting sunrises and sunsets. You can travel for hours to get to the perfect location, only to find a dull sky, nothing like the image you had hoped for. I found myself in this position last summer, when I visited Eilean Donan castle in Scotland. I had only one night to capture an image of this iconic landmark, but the colours of the sunset were really nothing special. As you can see from the raw photograph, something more was needed to make this into an interesting picture.


One solution to this is Adobe Lightroom’s Split Toning tool. Split Toning is technique that originated in film photography which transforms the colours of an image. It turns the highlights one colour and the shadows another. This lets you take a dull sky, and transform it into something fantastic. For those of you that use Photoshop, this tool is also available to you as part of the Adobe Camera Raw image processor.

The first step to using this technique is to compose the shot with this process in mind. In my opinion, the best results are achieved with photographs where the subject is silhouetted against the sky. This is because we will be changing the colours of the entire image, not just the sky This will make the foreground objects look weird if they’re clearly visible. For hints on capturing silhouettes see this guide.

Once you’re back from the shoot, import you photos into Lightroom, select the shot you want to split tone and hit ‘D’ to go to develop mode. If you did choose to go with a silhouette, adjust the black level or increase the contrast to ensure that the foreground is really black. Then scroll down to find the split toning section.

The tool is split down into two groups – one for altering the highlights and one for the shadows, with a balance slider in between the two. Use the hue sliders to select the colour you want to see in your image, then bring up the saturation slider until you get the desired intensity. Do this with both highlights and shadows, experiment with different colour combinations and intensities to see what works best for your photo. The balance slider can be used to adjust where the boundary between shadows and highlights lies, use it to decide how much of the image should be each colour.

I’ve found that these combinations work well: Yellow highlights with red or blue shadows, pink highlights with blue shadows. For my photograph of the castle, I chose yellow highlights with red shadows, giving a dramatic and fiery look to the sky. I’ve included the other alternatives to illustrate some other possibilities.


Split toning is a great way to liven up a dull sunset shot, but it can also be used in other area’s of photography. Check out this tutorial on using it to get the right colour balance in your shots. If you have any other innovative ways of using split toning, or you want to show off how you’ve used it to enhance your sunset photographs, leave a comment and let us know!

Andy Briggs is an amateur landscape photographer from the UK. You can visit my photoblog at http://www.a-briggs.co.uk/

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