Split-Toning: Processes and Procedures
from the February/March 2001 issue of Camera
Danville, Vermont 1998. Split-toned image from
"Diana" Camera. Photograph by Jonathan Bailey
In the first
half of this article I discussed the split tone effects
tonal shifts and exotic coloration - which have been with black
and white photography since its earliest days. In this article I
will offer formulae and procedures for attempting to deliberately
achieve these results in the darkroom with modern materials.
I use photography
as a point of departure: like Frederick Sommer, I prefer to view
a photograph as "a thing seen" in its own right, rather
than considering it as a document of "a thing seen." This
is a disengagement from viewing a photograph for its content alone.
An image has its own reasons for being perhaps possessing
its own kind of intelligence. I prefer to think of myself in the
role of steward or mid-wife: responsible to the image, but not in
charge of the image.
I teach in my
workshops upwards of a dozen different toning techniques - including
numerous split-toning processes. Toning, especially split-toning,
is an extension of the process of discovery which is photography
as I understand it. None of these processes respond well to willful
intent: the expectation that a certain predetermined "look"
or result will be achieved on command. If I knew beforehand how
a given image would tone, I wouldnt bother to do it
I would already understand it! My interest in these processes is
more in "revealing a beauty lurking within, what Japanese
potters call shibui a certain something "that
emerges spontaneously...when one entrusts oneself completely to
the materials and the tools...."1
for achieving split effects are extremely varied and constantly
evolve as manufacturers reformulate their papers. They also vary
widely from practitioner to practitioner: Olivia Parker, for instance,
printed on Kodak Azo paper and achieved beautiful splits with strong,
warm selenium. Tim Rudman has written an entire book on the benefits
of printing with lith developers and the enhanced toning potential,
especially split-toning, that is subsequently possible.2
Many practitioners have utilized a selective bleaching and toning
method (Phillip Borges, for example) that allows certain areas of
the image to tone while other areas remain unaffected. The split-effects
that Linda Butler is achieving result from the combination of Kodak
Polytoner and Fortes Fortezo paper 3,
while Thomas Joshua Cooper utilizes a gold-based split-process.
There are no absolutes here: this ground is largely unexplored and
your own experimentation may well render something completely unique
Fortezo Polywarm Paper split-toned with Nelson's
Fortezo Polywarm Paper toned first in selenium
and then toned in Nelson's Gold Toner
Fortezo Polywarm Plus Paper split-toned using
te GP-1 Gold process described in the article.
interest in split-toning is largely confined to gold-based chemistry.
I utilize formulae from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that
allow for color shifts according to the depth of silver on the prints
surface. I think of it as a topographical readout of the prints
silver density, rendered in color. These gold-based processes have
the added benefit of greatly enhancing archival permanence
arguably as archivally stable as gelatin silver can attain.
Within any given
split-process, specific colors are always related to a specific
density. These colors will show themselves consistently and repeatedly
from one version of the print to the next, as long as separation
of the densities are maintained and repeated. However, minor and
visually undetectable differences will always show up as variations
from one print to the next which means that while results
are broadly reproducible, prints are always one-of-a-kind.
To this extent,
split-toning shares with historic, or alternative, processes
(such as gum, albumen and even platinum), a hand-made quality and
one-of uniqueness. In my workshops I refer to toners
as alternative processes for commercial papers.
are indeed many options available, I prefer to treat the entire
print as a whole, rather than selectively picking and choosing which
areas to affect. This sidesteps "masterminding" the final
result. I would rather allow the materials and processes to show
me what they want to do. I am either interested in the results or
Im not: this is communication with an image, as I understand
is compelling at least in part due to its effect on the sense of
space within an image. Olivia Parker says it "expands the space
within the photograph ... integrates disparate objects ... a shadow
can liquefy or become three-dimensional."4
Robert Hirsch says it "can create an unexpected and subtle
sense of spatial ambiguity. Some photographers claim that split-toning
can unify objects within a composition and give it added depth....
Others ... say it fractures the continuity." 5
In certain images I find a compelling, almost three-dimensional
depth and sense of space. It depends entirely on the image in question,
and every image is different.
step in the printing process has an effect on the resulting split-toned
image. Choice of papers, developers, and even the fixer, are significant.
For example, certain papers will respond to certain toning processes
and not at all to others. Cold tone papers (such as Ilford Multigrade,
Kodak Polycontrast and Kodabromide etc) have emulsions based primarily
in silver-bromide. Warm tone papers (including Kodak Ektalure and
Azo, Agfa Portriga, Forte Fortezo, and Ilford Multigrade WT) contain
two different sizes of silver particles both silver-bromide
and silver-chloride, and they are often called chloro-bromide papers.
These two different size molecules respond to toners differently
and at different rates and this enhances their ability to split
when toned. Emmet Gowin suggests it is these smaller silver-chloride
molecules that are most responsible for the color in a black and
elaborated on his intuitive understanding of the chemical dynamics
that underlie split-toning. He believes particle size is always
involved with color perception in black and white photographs: and
that it is the smallest particles that refract the most color. He
gave as an example a common observation while developing warm tone
papers: print color is warmest with the shortest development times
i.e. when the mass of silver has been grown the
least by the action of the developer. Gowin, who teaches photography
at Princeton, has even gone to the trouble of investigating with
his students the structure of silver molecules under an electron
by Jonathan Bailey. Rangeley Lake, Maine. The image was created
with a $2 "Diana" camera (with light leak).
The top photo is the original, untoned print.
The middle photograph illustrates the GP-1 Gold split-toning process.
It illustrates its appearance after selenium toning showing inititial
splits of plum-red and blue-green. The bottom photograph shows its
appearance after treatment in Gold (GP-1) Toner. Note the rouge
in transition between light blue and darker green.
Printing for Split-Toning:
I use a 100%
hydroquinone developer called "HQ Warm Tone." (made by
Zonal-Pro), that is said to aid all papers in accepting toners.
I also use Kodak's Selectol-Soft developer when I need to fine tune
I always use
non-hardening fixers. Outside of their dubious benefit for prints,
hardeners can interfere with the action of toners. I suggest using
SPRINT fixer Janice Wendt, who designs Fortes Fortezo
paper for the American market explained to me in 1998 that Sprint
Fix apparently contains buffers that cause papers to accept toners
unevenly - significantly enhancing their ability to split-tone.
brands of chemistry midstream. It will likely change the results
you achieve. Keep the prints per liter of working solution low.
Complete fixing (and clearing) is vital! Wash your prints thoroughly!
Completely clean prints are crucial to good results; toners will
graphically demonstrate any shortcomings!
most importantly: keep good notes! I note in pencil on the back
of each individual print the exposure specifics and each subsequent
step through the toning processes. This is the only hope I have
in re-tracing my steps that lead to a successful result. Nothing
hones printing and darkroom skills like the need to replace a sold
Most of the
time I have no idea which process an image will respond to beforehand.
I usually print an image on at least a couple different papers within
a subtle range of contrasts and densities, in order to begin to
see where the image might want to go. I will usually work on a number
of negatives over the course of several printing sessions. I then
begin to work groups of prints through a given toner. This allows
me to see the action of the toner on numerous images at the same
time, which is always an advantage.
Keep in mind
that small things will conspire to make results vary: opening a
new box of paper can lead to a shift in results, just as having
printed one version of an image at the beginning of a print session
and another at the end. Imperceptible differences in exposure (I
suspect even voltage variations) also lead to varying results. So,
vive la differance! When reprinting an image I frequently end up
with a new or different result with which I am thrilled - something
happens I couldn't have predicted. So don't despair at the variables.
Always wear gloves when working with any toner, and work in adequately
ventilated spaces even outdoors if conditions permit!!
This is the
split-process I use most, especially for my Diana camera images.
It is actually two toners used in subsequent steps: The first step
is selenium (followed by hypo-clear and a complete wash), and then
the GP-1 gold toner, as follows:
(Thank you Emmet
Gowin for helping me sort out the particulars of this process back
in 1994: A more knowledgeable and generous man working in photography
I could not name.)
Step 1: Selenium
Prints on warm
toned papers (but especially Forte Fortezo a wonderful paper!)
are first toned in a working solution of Kodak Rapid Selenium toner
(1:10 - 1:15) until a significant split-tone effect occurs (typically
plum reds in the shadows and blue greens in the highlights).
thoroughly wash the prints. Drying the prints before the second
step is optional, and may (or may not) slightly affect the end result.
is probably the most toxic toner in general use. It should be used
to exhaustion before being discarded. It has a considerable shelf
life and print capacity. When exhausted (when toning times become
excessive, or the toner is quite cloudy), several prints should
be allowed to soak in it overnight to more completely neutralize
it. I use a gallon of diluted selenium for months, adding stock
selenium occasionally to freshen it up. It will tone dozens and
dozens of 8x10s. I strongly discourage persons from mixing
up a quart to tone a few prints and then tossing it away
it is both wasteful and a hazard.
Step 2: GP-1
"Gold Protective" Formula:
used as an archival treatment with little if any change in print
color (or a slight shift toward blue), this toner fell from use
due to its expense.
As a second
toner here, it will typically (depending on the image) strengthen
blues in the highlights, modify the plum reds with an element of
deep forest green, and add a "rouge" of red-pink on border
areas between the blue highlights and the greens in the shadows.
I use, settled on after trying many, differs slightly from other
published versions. It is first mixed as two stock solutions, combined
at the time of use. The stock solutions keep very well in light-resistant
and airtight containers. The working solution has a limited tray
life (a couple of hours).
Use of distilled
water is recommended.
Part A: One
gram Gold Chloride is mixed into a total volume of 100 ml water.
Part B: 100 grams of Sodium Thiocyanate are mixed into a total volume
of 1250 ml of water.
Add 10 ml of
Part A to 500 ml water. Add 125 ml Part B to this and enough water
to make 1000 ml.
I tone prints
back to back in pairs with constant agitation. 1000 ml working solution
will tone from four to six pairs of 8xlO prints. 2000 ml tones four
to six pairs of llxl4 prints, etc.
time is 10 minutes, but toning is by inspection; immersions as brief
as 3 minutes or as long as 30 are common. Tones continue to shift
and "finalize" for up to a half hour after prints are
pulled from the toner. I watch for the first indication of the "rouge"
(appearing between the blue highlights and the greens/plum reds
of the shadows), at which point I usually pull the print from the
I have found
that as print size increases so must the concentration of Sodium
Thiocyanate. Add approximately 10% more Thiocyanate to the working
solution for each increase in print size (i.e. from 8x10 to 11x14,
or from 11x14 to 16x20).
The toner is
discarded after the toning session. Prints are then washed for at
least 10 minutes.
Craftsman (A Japanese Insight into Beauty), Soetsu Yanagi (adapted
by Bernard Leach). Kodansha International, NY, NY 1982.
Photographer's Lith Printing Course : A Definitive Guide to Creative
Lith Printing, Tim Rudman. Amphoto, NY, NY 1999.
In the Shadow of Time, Linda Butler. Rizzoli Press, NY, NY 1998
Dynamics, Jim Stone. Focal Press, Boston and London, 1979.
Possibilities: The Expressive Use of Ideas, Materials, and Processes.
Robert Hirsch. Focal Press, Boston and London 1991.