Kenneth Morris Lee
Selective Toning in Photoshop

This article describes an improvement to methods described in a previous article on toning. They are limited because they apply a tone to the entire brightness range. This "all or nothing" approach gives us no specific control over which shades get tinted.

After applying a Color Fill Layer or Photo Filter layer, we can use either a Levels, Blend If or Color Range adjustment to apply toning selectively. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. My favorite is the All In One Blend If Layer approach.

For an article on how to accomplish this with RawTherapee, see Super Selective Toning by Christopher Mark Perez.

To read a related article about adjusting contrast and brightness, see Selective Curves in Photoshop.
For a related article about sharpening images, see Selective Sharpening in Photoshop.

Before Starting: Convert to 16-Bit

 For best results and to avoid banding, convert the image to 16 bit.

The Levels Gamma Control

After applying a Photoshop Color Fill or Photo Filter Layer, add a new Levels adjustment layer and make sure that the blending mode is Color.

The Levels adjustment provides 2 sets of controls. The first control is a slider (red arrow) which controls midtone brightness via a Gamma function. As we slide the slider to the left and right, we move the area which gets the most concentrated toning.



Grayscale image


After applying a Color Fill Layer the Gamma slider is at its default setting of 1.00
Toning has been applied across the entire brightness range.


After moving the Gamma slider to the left, toning is emphasized at the lower portion of the brightness scale.
Because the Gamma adjustment is a curve, the effect is gradual, with no abrupt cutoff.


After moving the Gamma slider to the right, toning is emphasized at the higher portion of the brightness scale.
Because the Gamma adjustment is a curve, the effect is gradual, with no abrupt cutoff.

The Levels Output Control

The second control is a pair of sliders (yellow arrows) which limit the output values at the low and high end of the brighntess scale. Because these values are discrete or step-wise, the effect not gradual: tones are merely cut off at the specified brightness levels.



Grayscale image


After applying a Color Fill Layer the Output Levels sliders are at their default settings.
Toning has been applied across the entire brightness range.


After adjusting the sliders, we have restricted toning to the middle of the brightness scale.
The lower and higher ends have been clipped: blacks appear black and whites appear white.
You may want to scroll up to the grayscale image to compare.

Double Blend If Sliders for Gradual Transitions

Photoshop allow us to click on a single Blend If slider and make it a double slider. A double slider specifies a gradual or feathered transition. Windows: Alt+Click. Mac: Option+Click.

Here we have converted the sliders on the Underlying Layer into double sliders and dragged them apart from one another.

Selective Toning  Selective Toning

The start and end of a double slider denotes the beginning and end of a gradual transition where tones are applied. The left (dark) sliders increase the tone in a gradual way, and the right (white) sliders decrease the tone gradually.

Selective Toning
The tone increases gradually from 49 to 128, then gradually decreases it from 150 to 255.
The image has been toned primarily in the middle of the brightness scale.
The blacks are black and the whites are white, but the middle values are toned.

Selective Toning
The tone increase gradually from 0 to 48, then gradually decreases from 66 to 255.
The image has been toned primarily at the lower end of the brightness scale.

Single and Double Sliders: Abrupt and Gradual Transitions Combined

Selective Toning
We have used a single slider on the left and a double slider on the right.
Photoshop will abruptly introduce toning at 41, then gradually decrease it from 115 to 255.

Selective Toning
There is no toning below 41: the blacks are black.
Above that value, a warm tone increases gradually and rolls off gently into the high values.
The pure black has an impact which seems appropriate for this image.

All-In-One-Layer Blend If Method

This method is more advanced but combines everything into one Adjustment Layer

Selective Toning
Grayscale image

Duplicate the background layer and edit its Layer Style properties.
Add a Color Overlay and specify the toning color.
Adjust the Blend If settings to apply a gradual tone across the middle values
Adjust the Opacity of the Blend Mode.

Selective Toning
There is no toning below 66: the blacks are black.
Above that value, a warm tone increases gradually and rolls off before reaching white

Selective Toning
Final image

The Color Range Control

The Color Range tool is similar to the BlendIf feature, but is quicker and gives us immediate feedback about which areas of the brightness scale we are selecting. We can create selections for highlights, midtones or shadows - and specify a degree of fuzziness over each selection.

Start with a grayscale image


Grayscale image

Add a Photo Filter layer.


Image after we have added a blue Photo Filter layer.
The entire range of brightness values have been toned.

Note: when we created the Photo Filter layer, Photoshop added a layer mask to that layer.


Click on the layer mask, then go to Select > Color Range...

Select the range of brightness values you would like to tone - highlights, midtones or shadows - and specify the fuzziness. Because we are creating a mask, we want to invert it, so that our chosen brightness range gets toned, not prevented from toning. Click the Invert option, then click OK.


We have selected the shadow values within a "fuzzzy" range.
The sky and shaded areas have been selected.


The sky and shaded areas have been fully toned with blue.
Because we specified high fuzziness, the brighter values have been colored - but minimally.

Sample Duo-Toned Images

These duo-toned images combine gray and warm tints.

Selective Toning
Grayscale

Selective Toning
Toned

Selective Toning
Grayscale

Selective Toning
Toned

Selective Toning
Grayscale

Selective Toning
Toned

Sample Tri-Toned Images

Adding two Blend If toning layers we can create cool shadows, neutral midtones and warm highlights.

Selective Toning
Grayscale

Selective Toning
Toned