Friday, 12 August 2011

Monochrome: Tone the highlights or tone the shadows?

If you look through the pictures I have posted in this blog, you can see that I am something of a monochrome enthusiast.

Monochrome workers ever since the earliest days of photography have been able to add a subtle tone to their pictures to convey a particular atmosphere. In the age of Lightroom and Photoshop this is now a trivial procedure: Lightroom, for instance, provides a large number of presets for this.

I have been casting round for specific split tone settings for monochrome images, and in the past few months have found a couple of methods that I like. Both Lightroom and Camera Raw allow you to add toning to either the shadows or highlights, or even different tones to each. (Having said that, I have never really taken to adding different tones to both the highlights and shadows, and haven't pursued that.)

I came across an entry in Scott Kelby's blog where he showed toning of the shadow regions -- giving warmth to the darkest tones.

Fig. 1. The split toning panel in Lightroom: settings similar to the Kelby toning method. An equivalent panel is available in the current version of ACR.

This appealed to me, so I have made a Lightroom preset similar to this (Fig. 1). I have posted a number of examples of this, but to illustrate, here is one. Note how the highlights sparkle white, but the darker regions have a slightly warm tone.

Fig. 2. Darker regions toned using the settings shown in Fig. 1.

I had never previously thought of toning the highlights rather than the shadows, but Tim Clinch introduced me to a very pleasing method. The Creamtone preset supplied with Lightroom puts a soft creamy appearance on the highlight regions, and this can be very attractive.

Fig. 3. Settings for Creamtone highlights

The problems with this particular preset are that it introduces an increase in the exposure, and the black-and-white conversion is by simple desaturation. My preference is to use the B&W panel in Lightroom for converting to monochrome, so that the targeted adjustment tools can be used to alter the contribution of the original colours to the final image. So, I set up my own version of the Creamtone preset, which doesn't change the exposure and the B&W panel is used for conversion; the toning follows the original Creamtone values (Fig. 3).

Fig. 4. Toned with the Creamtone settings

I think for the moment these two approaches will do me for much of my monochrome work.

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