Leica M Duochrome? – Split Tone in Venice
David Nash, September 2012
Leica M9, 28 mm Elmarit
Recently I’ve been playing around with split-tone processing in Lightroom as an alternative to black & white, and also reading the publicity around the Leica M Monochrome. That inspired me to write this short article on my “Duochrome” take on Leica M photography – split-tone Venice images all taken with an M9. I’ve also included tips on optimising images for split tone conversion and customizing Lightroom split tone presets to give you full control over the look of the final image.
For those not familiar with split tone images, think of them simply as black and white images with highlights tinted one colour and shadows tinted another colour. Split tone technique dates back to the days of film – but now of course can be simulated quickly and easily in the Lightroom Develop module. (Or by using Photoshop etc.)
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I’ve been taking photos in Venice on and off for decades. I love the quality of the light, the reflections and the endlessly varied – and mostly crumbling – architecture. And a huge plus for photography – no cars!! The downside of course is that it’s really hard to take photos that are not hackneyed. Using black & white is one way of avoiding the obvious travel shots, but for Venice I do find that black & white images can often lose a bit of atmosphere – particularly with daylight shots. I’ve tried sepia presets in Lightroom but to my taste the results often look a bit too nostalgic. Enter split tone. To me, split tone images combine the attractions of black and white (emphasis on composition, tone, textures etc.) with a wider expressive range. This seems to better suit the atmosphere of Venice, particularly when using cold (bluish) tints for the shadows contrasting with warm (orangeish) tones for the highlights.
M9, 50mm Summicron
As ever, a computer screen will never have the look and tonal subtlety of a good print. I find these shots print particularly well on A3+ Harmann Matt Baryta paper – preferably using a printer that has extra grey tones like the Epson 3800.
M9, Zeiss 35mm Biogon 2.8
Lightroom Split Tone tips and techniques: Key steps (further detail below)
• Choose a suitable image: split tone doesn’t work well for everything
• Optimise the image (particularly its tone range) before conversion
• Choose one of the split tone presets as starting point (you’ll find them towards the bottom of the “Presets” list on the left pane of the Develop Module)
• Customise the preset using Lightroom’s Split Toning sliders (located below the Colour/B&W mixer panel on the right pane)
• Fine tune the result by revisiting the other tools – particularly tone (highlights, shadows, curves etc. and/or grad filter effects) and local contrast (clarity)
M9, Zeiss Biogon 35mm 2.8
Choosing a suitable image/optimisation
M9, 28mm Elmarit 2.8
Photos that work in black & white are good candidates split tone, with the one qualification that for split tone you need a full tonal range to start with – otherwise you will lose much of one of the 2 tint colours. Areas of smooth tonal transitions from lighter to darker look great – particularly if they change from one tint to the other (see detailed example below). For the shot above I increased highlights and darkened the sky (using the blue luminance slider) before converting. This increased the overall tonal range and made the right of centre sunlit building and its reflection stand out more.
Split Tone Conversion
Which 2 colours?
Your first decision is which colour to use for the highlight tint and which to use for the shadow tint. These can be any two colours, but the general view is that “opposite” colours work best – e.g. red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. Generally I prefer the cold bluish shadows setting off warm highlights that are the basis of the Lightroom Split Tone 1 preset. This is the preset I used as a starting point for all the images in this article
Cannaregio Canal, M9, Zeiss 35mm Biogon 2.8
Customizing presets: color and/or saturation
Split toning adjustments start with separately optimising colour and/or saturation for Highlights and Shadows. Colour optimisation uses the Hue sliders – personally I tend to leave them where they are for Split Tone 1 preset. Saturation controls how blue the shadows are and how warm the highlights are. Subtlety is the best approach. For some images you might wish to leave the blue shadows but set the highlights nearer white by reducing the highlight saturation.
A key difference between the 2 shots above is the highlight saturation slider settings. The left hand example uses the saturation preset – for the right I’ve considerably reduced the highlight saturation and also darkened the sky so it picks up more of the colder shadow tone
In many ways the key control is the balance slider. In simple terms this sets the crossover point in the tone range from darkest to lightest for the transition from the shadow tone to the highlight tone. Experiment a lot with this slider – some images will look better with bluish midtones – others better with warmer midtones. I particularly love the smooth transitions from warm to cold over broad areas that the balance slider allows you to control. In the image at the top of the article you’ll see this transition from dark cold to warm mid in the skies. With a different balance setting this effect would have been lost:
There is little transition from cold to warm in the sky in the left example – the balance slider is set towards blue keeping the midtones bluish. On the right (the final version) the balance has been set towards the warm highlight tone, so the sky tint ranges from blue at its darkest to warm mids
I often find that even with these adjustments I still haven’t got quite the look I want for a particular image. So it’s back to the general Lightroom tools – particularly tone adjustments (highlights, shadows, grad filters) and local contrast again (clarity – sometimes combined with a grad filter as in the example below).
Burano Washing Line, M9, 50mm Summicron. After conversion to split tone, I added a grad filter from the top to darken sky and building top half. But this subdued the highlights in the washing so I used the brush on the washing highlights to locally increase the exposure. I then used a grad filter over the foreground paving and significantly increased clarity. Lastly, I added a slight “post-crop” vignette.
Next steps: Fuji X100 Duochrome?
Golden Horse, Alpe di Siusi, Dolomites. Fuji X100.
Thanks for reading!