Split Tone and Duotone in Photoshop Elements

Split tone effect on photograph

Liz Masoner


Split tone and Duotone are very similar photo effects. Duotone means you have white (or black) and one other color. White on the highlights and the other color in the shadows OR black in the shadows and the other color for the highlights. Split tone is the same except you substitute any other color for the black/white option. For example, you might have blue shadows and yellow highlights.

This tutorial is written using Photoshop Elements 10 but should work in almost any version (or other program) that allows layers.

Create a Gradient Map Layer

Create a gradient map layer

Liz Masoner

Open the photo you wish to use and then look under your Layers display (usually on the right of your screen). Click on the small two-color circle. This pulls up a menu of new fill and adjustment layer options. Chose Gradient Map from this list.

Setting the Gradient

Setting the gradient

Liz Masoner

Once the new gradient map adjustment layer is created, click on the gradient map adjustment bar below the layers display a couple of times to open up the gradient menu.

Now, in the gradient editor, there are a lot of options. Don't let it confuse you, just follow this step by step.

First, make sure you have the black to white gradient option selected. This is the first preset at the top left of the gradient editor. Second, the color bar in the middle of the menu screen is where we'll choose our highlight and shadow colors. The bottom left button under the gradient bar controls shadows and the bottom right button under the gradient bar controls highlights. Click on the shadows color stop button and then look at the bottom of the menu box where it says color. You'll see the color matches the shadows color stop button, it is black. Click the color block to pull up the color palette.

Choosing the Tone

Choosing the tone

Liz Masoner

Now you'll be able to select the color for your duotone/split tone image. We're working with shadows at the moment so first select your hue from the bar on the right of the palate. Blue is a traditional favorite for toning so I've used that for this tutorial. Now, click somewhere in the large color palate to pick the actual color to be applied to your photo shadows. It will show up some on highlights but much more on the shadows.

When picking a color, remember that you are working with shadows so you'll want to stick with a dark color. On the example photo above, I've circled the general area you'll probably want to stay in for shadows and the general area for highlight selections as well.

If you are creating a duotone photo, move on to Step Five. If you want a split tone, you'll need to repeat this process but this time select the bottom right highlights color stop button. Then select a highlight color.

Clean Up the Exposure

Clean up the exposure

Liz Masoner

Depending on your starting photo and the colors selected, you may have a slightly "muddy" looking photo by this point. Not to worry, while Elements doesn't have a real curves adjustment feature, we have levels. Create a new adjustment layer (remember the little two color circle under your layers display?) and tweak the sliders as needed to regain contrast and brighten the image a bit.

If only a small portion of the photo needs brightening, or levels alone isn't enough, you can add in a non-destructive burn/dodge layer between the original photo layer and the gradient map layer.

Final Image

Final Image

Liz Masoner

Okay, that's it. You've made a duotone or split tone image. Don't be afraid to play with color strengths and combinations. While blue, sepia, green, and orange are very common, they are by no means the only choices. Remember it's your photo and your decision. Have fun with it!