A sleek and minimal design like the duotone effect can really make your portraits stand out. Learn how to pull it off in this tutorial.

If you’re in the business of taking portraits, or just taking photos in general, you certainly know how important every step of the production process can be. If you know how your edit will look going into a shoot, the shoot itself will go much more smoothly — and you’ll feel better about the photos you’re taking. With duotones, the process requires a little bit of forethought and an extra light or two. So let’s dive into how to take a good “duotone photo” — and then how to manipulate it in Photoshop.


Lighting Your Model

How to Use the Duotone Effect in Your Portraits — Lighting the Model

When you begin to set up your photoshoot, use a white backdrop. If you can’t find one, use the palest or blandest color you can find. This color choice will give you more room in the post-production process to manipulate the colors to fit whatever your aesthetic. Once your subject arrives, light them with a nice, diffused, even key light. Then light the backdrop behind them evenly as well. You might need to have them sit a couple feet away from the backdrop to give you enough space to adequately light it. Once you’ve done this, take your picture.


Working in Photoshop

How to Use the Duotone Effect in Your Portraits — Bring into Photoshop

Once you’ve brought your photo into Photoshop, we’re going to start adding adjustment layers. So navigate to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black and White. This will turn the image black and white, which just gives us greater contrast and more control over the color manipulation. Now add another adjustment — go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. This will bring up a color bar on the right. Click on it, and you’ll see the Gradient Editor. Double-click on the left stop to choose the first color. This will be the color for your subject, so it’s usually best to pick a darker shade of whatever you’d like. This will make it stand out against the background while staying defined. Once you’ve chosen the perfect color, hit “OK,” and then double-click on the right stop. This will be the color for the background. (I tend to choose a lighter color for this one.) Once you’ve chosen the perfect color, hit “OK.”


Further Editing

How to Use the Duotone Effect in Your Portraits — Further Editing

If you want to edit the shades and tints of certain areas of your subject, you can focus on one area and tweak it. First, use the Lasso Tool to mask out the area you want to focus on. Then navigate to Select > Select and Mask, and you’ll see the “Refine Edge” tool to the right. Select “Smart Radius,” and then you’ll see the tools to tweak the smoothness, feathering, contrast, and shift edge. Play with those as much as you want the edit to blend into the photo. (I tend to play with the smoothness and feathering.)

Now we’re going to add another adjustment layer, so go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. Move this new layer beneath all your other adjustment layers because you want the new layer applied to your previous color choices. Once you’ve done this, you can play with the darkness or lightness of the selected area. This just gives you more options for fully customizing your new duotone image.


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