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

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Some Older Comments

  • Stephanie Boslet June 7, 2011 02:56 pm

    I'm curious to find out what blog system you are utilizing? I'm experiencing some minor security problems with my latest site and I'd like to find something more safeguarded. Do you have any recommendations?

  • Michelle Armour June 11, 2010 09:30 am

    Thanks as I have wondered on good uses for this easy to use tool, Cheers

  • Phyllis Clapis May 14, 2010 02:02 pm

    Thanks for this brief but effective tutorial! I took some sunset shots last night and used your suggestions using LR. Great results!

  • J Lloyd May 1, 2010 06:28 pm

    Fabulous effect - not all photographs have to be true to the original! That's missing the point of editing and artistry! Never used this with a silhouette before but it does open up some great options, great tip!

  • Deirdre April 25, 2010 02:01 pm

    FYI -- can be done in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) as well.

  • Mitch April 25, 2010 04:33 am

    This was done in Photoshop, I think mine looks a little more natural as well

  • Diana Eftaiha April 23, 2010 10:21 pm

    im no lightroom user but ill sure retweet this to my fellow followers. this looks like a helpful article and the end result is awesome

  • Olivia April 23, 2010 06:05 am

    I like the split toning technique but prefer the colours of the original photograph, I think that they could have been easily made more prominent just by cracking up vibrance and saturation for geting similar but more realistic look than with the split toning.

  • StunGunAshley April 23, 2010 02:56 am

    Does this only work with RAW? or can you do the same thing with jpegs?

    I'm just starting to toy with the idea of using RAW, so far I haven't found the the big difference except the speed at which my memory cards fill up. But I figure there has to be good reason why people use it.

  • Zack Jones April 22, 2010 01:01 am

    This is interesting but it could use some screen captures showing what you're actually changing in LightRoom. I plan to try this technique soon though as it does seem to be pretty interesting.

  • Paul April 20, 2010 04:25 am

    Thank you for the tutorial. Always nice to pick up a new tool for the box!

  • Donny Lightspeed April 20, 2010 02:32 am

    Never even thought of using split toning before except to brighten up a sky- wow the examples rock! Thanks for the tutorial!

  • Paul Gowder April 20, 2010 12:06 am

    Love this tip! I tried it out this weekend. I love what I was able to do with this!

    [eimg link='' title='A Different Take' url='']

  • Paul Gowder April 20, 2010 12:03 am

    Thanks for this great tip! I tried it out this weekend and love the results!

  • Kimberly April 19, 2010 02:33 pm

    This is so helpful. I just stepped up from Elements to Lightroom; I'm excited to put this to use soon.

  • Ólafur April 19, 2010 06:04 am

    Here is one "original" sunset taken out of my sleeping-room window, in Iceland.

    The volcano in the scene is Snæfellsjökull and is 1446 m high. It erupted 9000 years ago, 3900 years ago and 1750 years ago, and is still "active".

    Best regards,

  • Glyn Dewis April 19, 2010 12:58 am

    Very nice tutorial showing what can be done with just a few minor tweeks in Lightroom to an already great shot.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • scott April 19, 2010 12:08 am

    I think the original one was awesome. I am sure it is personal preference, but the muted tones and colors of the original were full of mood and really made a nice impression.

  • Danferno April 18, 2010 08:44 pm

    Yellow highlights + green shadows work quite nice as well.

  • Jeff Closs April 18, 2010 02:18 pm

    No - I really like the original as well. I do understand wanting such an interesting silhouette to have a more dramatic sky though.

    I followed this tutorial with a couple silhouettes I did on our family picnic the other night. They turned out quite well, and this is an interesting bit of knowledge to have in my post process kit - I prefer a more honest telling of the story through the lens, but this does open up some neat creative outlets.

    You can find my 3 attempts here:

  • PrincessKessie April 18, 2010 12:39 pm

    Am I the only one who prefers the original/out-of-the-camera shot?

  • guiie April 18, 2010 10:14 am

    For Aperture 3 the process is a bit longer, you can check it here:

  • the clubhouse kid April 18, 2010 08:32 am

    Anyone know how to easily do this in Apple’s Aperture?

    my thoughts exactly.

  • Dennyboy April 18, 2010 08:09 am

    I like this but i dont see how HDR makes anything naturally spectacular, i dont mind HDR dont misunderstand me. However the silhouette looks spot on for me.

  • Trevor Carpenter April 18, 2010 07:49 am

    Anyone know how to easily do this in Apple's Aperture?

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 18, 2010 07:02 am

    I really just LOVE how sunsets look in HDR photos so that's how I take a lot of mine. Other than that I am not a huge fan of adjusting them like this. If its naturally spectacular that is what I look for, not to make it something that it never was. ...but that's just me.

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    Northeast Kingdom Photography - My photography website