Exercise Brief: Split contrast is another darkroom technique that’s much easier to achieve in the digital domain. Use it to add drama to your pictures or to correct problems in exposure, for example, an over-exposed sky above a correctly exposed landscape. You’ll need a good image editing program like Photoshop to do advanced work like this because it involves using layers.

1. Choose a photo to work on that has a bright sky like the reference image.

2. Make the photo black and white, as this emphasises the tonal differences in the image. If you use a Black & White Adjustment Layer, you can delete it later to return the image to colour.

3. Add a Curves Adjustment Layer and increase the contrast, making the dark tones darker and the highlights brighter – as you learned in Part One. Rename this Layer ‘High Contrast’.

4. Select the Layer Mask and use the Brush tool to paint black paint (black subtracts your change in contrast from the image). You can also lower the opacity of the brush to paint shades of grey that will let some of the contrast through the mask.

5. Add another Curves Adjustment Layer and make the image darker. Also, change the Blending Mode of the layer to Multiply.

6. Select the Layer Mask and paint black paint everywhere you want to not be affected by this darkening layer.In other words, the picture retains its contrast in some parts but it’s increased in others. You could use this to make one part of the image high contrast and the other low contrast. This could help with a photograph that includes, for example, both an interior scene lit by diffused artificial light as well as an exterior lit by strong sunlight.

7. The Dodging & Burning Layer (this is a non-destructive way to dodge and burn): • Create a new layer, then choose Edit> Fill> and choose 50% Grey. • Change the layer blending mode to Overlay. • Change the brush opacity to 20% or less. • Now use both black and white paint on this layer to dodge and burn, brighten and darken the image. • If you want, delete the Black & White adjustment layer to return the photo to colour.

You can only master techniques like these through practice; use some of your old photographs as practice material.

Below are the results of my attempt at split-toning.

Original Image
Black & White Image
HIgh Contrast Curves Adjustment Layer
Curves Adjustment Layer with darkened image and blending mode ‘multiply.’
Dodging & Burning Layer
The original and final split-toned image in B&W
The original and final split-toned image in colour.

Conclusion: I finally got this right after a few attempts though I still think I need a lot of practice before this becomes second-nature. Nevertheless, it’s pleasing to see the transformation of a flattish one plane image that looked bland in its raw form, to the final image where one can see the result in the depth and the drama this process created. I feel the sky looks a little unreal in my final image but I hope to correct that with more practice. I do like how it added that pop to the picture and made the subject stand out from the backdrop.



2 thoughts on “Exercise 2.11 Split contrast

  1. Archna, thank you. Another carefully and successfully achieved exercise, and another blog from which I have learned very much more than I knew before. I find photoshop very confusing and I have not used it to best effect at all, so once again some learning that I can apply in our darker days that are fast approaching here in U.K. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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