Split Contrast

Split contrast is a darkroom technique that’s much easier to achieve in the digital world. It can be used to add drama to pictures or to correct problems in exposure.

The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to change the look of a photograph by adjusting the contrast in certain areas.

I’ve approached this exercise in a similar way to that for Exercise 2.10. I’ve looked at several sources for instructions as to performing this technique. These have included the Foundations in Photography course notes and the two books that I used for the Dodging and Burning exercise.

The results are interesting, especially those achieved using the course notes.

Exercise 2.6-4947
Original Image
Exercise 2.6-4947 - Steps 1 to 6
Black and White with Split Contrast applied to the sky
Exercise 2.6-4947 - Steps 1 to 6 Black and White Layer removed
Colour reapplied

Black and White images are a lot more forgiving than colour at times. I think the changes to the sky are good in the edited B&W image but there is a distinct lack when it comes to the people as for me they blend too much into the scenery, whereas in the colour version they stand out more.

Having applied the split contrast to the image and then removed the black and white layer so that the colour returned I was surprised to see the effect it had on the colour of the sky. At first I didn’t really like it but as I look at it more I find it growing on me.

The only thing that really annoys me about both the edited black and white and colour images is where the sky and trees meet, there needs to be a much better blending between the two, something I need to learn to do.

Trying a different way to adjust the photograph resulted in the following image, along with the colour version.

Exercise 2.6-4947 - Curves Adjustment Layer

Exercise 2.6-4947 - Curves Adjustment Layer - Colour


Lightroom and Camera Raw are more restricted when it comes to adjusting the contrast like this. They provide the facility for split tones/duotones. For really simple adjustments to an image I found these far simpler to use.

Exercise 2.6-4947 Camera Raw Duotone
Camera Raw – Duotone
Exercise 2.6-4947 Camera Raw Split Tones
Camera Raw – Split tone
Exercise 2.11-4947 Lightroom Duotone
Lightroom – Duotone
Exercise 2.11-4947 Lightroom Split Tone
Lightroom – Split tone

Adjusting the tones using Lightroom resulted in a much better image than adjusting it in Camera Raw. There is a lot more detail in the grass and trees in the Lightroom images compared to the Camera Raw versions. I also think that the detail is better than in the Photoshop image.

The split tone images are better than the duotone ones because you can get a sense of the clouds in the sky, especially in the Lightroom image.

Whichever technique you use to adjust the picture, it takes practice but the results can be worth it.