• Philip Preston

Photo Editing, Sometimes, Split Toning Can Add That Wow Factor!

London sunset, featuring Westminster bridge and the London Eye.
Above: London sunset from Westminster bridge, final version after post processing with Adobe Lightroom.

Have you ever taken a photo with great expectations of getting something a bit special, then been somewhat deflated upon seeing the initial result of your efforts? I certainly have, and I'm probably not alone in that respect. Back in 2014, I purchased my first mirrorless camera, a Fujifilm X-E1 with 18-55mm lens, and shortly afterwards went on a day trip to London to try it out. It was late November, about 4pm, and looked like there was going to be a nice sunset that evening. I made my way to Westminster bridge down by the river Thames and was just wandering around looking for a composition that made good use of the impending sunset colours. I walked onto the bridge, and the beautiful ornate street lamps were switched on, so decided to use one of them as foreground interest for a photo. Looking east towards the London Eye with nice sky colours was the obvious choice to complement the foreground street lights, so decided that would be my final composition. As usual, there were large numbers of tourists walking on the bridge, so hand holding the camera, I quickly checked my composition when no one was in the frame and pressed the shutter button. Job accomplished.

Above: London sunset from Westminster bridge, original image before post processing editing work.

So, how did my photo look? The image shown right is a copy of the unedited RAW file straight out of camera, which looks considerably different to the edited version above! When taking the photo, I decided to underexpose by 1 stop, to help retain colour and detail in the sky and street lamps. This meant the foreground bridge was underexposed and rather dark, but the sky and street lamps were generally OK. When a composition contains both bright and dark areas, such as the sky and bridge in this example, there is a high contrast range which is not easy to deal with exposure wise, unless your camera is mounted on a tripod and either graduated filters used to reduce sky brightness, or exposure bracketing done to blend corrected exposures for highlight and shadow areas during post processing. I didn't do any of that for my photo, so it was just a case of seeing what could be done in post processing to try and improve the photo.

Above: London sunset from Westminster bridge, with basic adjustments completed in Adobe Lightroom.

The image shown left has been edited with Adobe Lightroom, and is essentially the final version of the original file shown above, apart from one additional edit. To get to this stage involved edits with Lightroom's Basic and Tone Curve adjustments: Basic edits were increasing exposure and shadows, reducing highlights, adjusting white and black points, increasing clarity, vibrance and saturation, Tone Curve edits were adjustments to highlights and shadows.

If you compare this image with the final edited version shown below, there is a noticeable difference between the two. The image left has a 'cooler' look colourwise, while the final version has a 'warmer' look to it. In both cases though, each image has identical colour temperature and tint settings in Lightroom, and the clarity, vibrance and saturation settings are also identical in both cases. So, can you guess what has been done to the final edited version to give that overall warmer look to the image?

London sunset at Westminster bridge, with Split Toning added to image highlights.
Above: final version of London Sunset, with Split Toning added to image highlights.

The final edited version of the image is shown again right. In case you have not already guessed, the one difference between this and the edited version above is, Split Toning has been used for the final version, adding warm orange tones into the highlight areas of the image. This makes a considerable difference to the sky and water sections, giving a nice warm sunset glow, without making it look too artificial, which is what would have happened if the Vibrance and Saturation settings had been increased too much. So, when doing any post processing work, my tip in this blog is to consider if Split Toning can add something worthwhile to the final edited version of your images. Don't expect it to work wonders every time though, essentially, give it a try, if it works, then great!

Prints of my London Sunset photograph are available for purchase on my Fine Art America / Pixels store.