Toning Your Image

The Manalsu River with a selenium tone applied. Toning is a critical element of your black & white image.
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Toning. A Critical Element of Your Image

Manalsu River. Selenium Tone

The last step in editing your image is color grading it or applying a tone. You color grade a color image and apply a tone to a black-and-white image. I’ve learned that toning is a critical element while deciding how I want to present an image. This step often arouses conflicting emotions in me, and I will explain why.

First, I decide on the overall look of the image. Once I make this decision, I process the image. A question I must answer is this: do I want the image to be low-key or high-key, or neutral? I avoid creating a neutral-looking image. Neutral images are boring and don’t possess any personality. This is my view, and I understand that there are many who like neutral images with perfect detail in highlights, mid-tones, and shadows.

However, I don’t mind shadow or dark areas of images with no detail. This is not my usual rule. If a dark area with no detail suits the purpose of the image, I will darken that part of the image. Deep shadows can, and sometimes do create strong moods. In contrast, a high-key image looks almost ethereal at times. However, I will not process an image with a blown-out highlights, especially in monochrome work. Shadows and highlights are critical elements of an image, so treat them with care.

Questions That Plague Me

Manalsu River. The Prometheus Color Grade. 33% Opacity

I mentioned at the start that I always leave toning till the end. Once I have made all the edits in an image, I plan the final visual presentation. This does not mean I leave this thought process until the end. Most of the time, this question plagues me through my edit. Once I reach the end, I pause and smack myself on the head.

The tone is such a critical element of the image, I often have conflicting emotions running through me. I ask myself several questions, and the list below is not exhaustive.

· Do I want the image to be cool or warm?

· Do I want it to appear ‘modern’, or antique?

· Do I want something dramatic, or subtle?

When you answer these and other such questions, and then you may find your solution.

How do you tone your image? There are many ways to tone your image, and I will write a detailed post on this the next time around.

One tool you can use is Nik Silver Efex Pro, which has some excellent options. If you own Joel Tjintjellar’s panel, you can use some options he offers.

If you own neither, you can add a color fill layer as the top layer, and then experiment with various blending modes. Take your pick.

This Image

Manalsu River. The Inception Color Grade. 33% Opacity.

I have posted three versions of the same image in this post. I made this image at the Manalsu River in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India. It was cold, about minus 5 degrees Celsius. The exposure time is 13 seconds.

I made the initial black & white conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro. Next, I made some adjustments in Photoshop. Apart from applying curves, I did a lot of dodging and burning. In the end, I applied the tone using Joel’s panel.

When you examine the images, you will notice some subtle differences in all three. Each creates its own mood, and therefore I am convinced toning is such a critical element of a black-and-white image.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize, once more, the centrality of this step in creating your visual story.


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Published by Rajiv

I have been around the block a bit. I've lived in four countries, and in many parts of my country. I have been fortunate enough to meet some really good people, and some really lousy ones, all of whom have taught me much. I am passionate about photography, writing, Indian history and continuing on this grand journey towards death.

2 thoughts on “Toning Your Image

    1. Rajiv – I have been around the block a bit. I've lived in four countries, and in many parts of my country. I have been fortunate enough to meet some really good people, and some really lousy ones, all of whom have taught me much. I am passionate about photography, writing, Indian history and continuing on this grand journey towards death.
      Rajiv says:

      Thanks!

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