Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Art of Toning

This tutorial covers almost all the popular color and monotone effects used in photographic images. Though there are many ways to achieve this, we based the whole tutorial on layers and adjustment layers in photoshop elements which should be available to any user. If you are used to your favourite photo filter, try this method to achieve more control and confidence.

We always have our preference in terms of what tone a particular image should be. All images don't look good color, and vice versa. The image(or series) dictates what tone it should be in and that, will come to you in time. Ok, so lets begin. Open the image in Photoshop and make a duplicate layer. Although, we are not applying any filter to the original(or duplicate) is just a habbit you should develop.

Lets start with the BLACK & WHITE. Whenever you begin to apply a filter or tone on an image, it should be already color corrected first and should have proper brightness and contrast and sharpness. Toning should be the last step. The best way to do a black and white conversion(on a perfect color image) is by using gradient map adjustment layer. Yes, you can do it by channels or the cool new black and white tool. But those only help to tweak an un color corrected image. With Gradient map, using black as foreground and white as background, just brings out the perfect gray tones of the image. You will see in a moment.....just click on the adjustment layer icon and choose gradient map.

In the box that opens up, make sure you select the black and white gradient. Normally you wouldn't need to, but if you want, you can fine tune the tones with the center slider circled.

See the result for yourself....

Now, SEPIA time. To do this, simply click the adjustment layer icon, and select hue/saturation. Make sure the gradient map layer is selected so that the new layer will come on top of it.

In the dialog box, first click to select colorize in the check box. Now, move the saturation slider to where its shown below which is quite desaturated. The hue slider should be near to orange to give the perfect sepia tone.

That is EXACTLY what sepia is....a highly desaturated orange monotone. See result below.

Now, if you play around with the hue slider, you can create any tone you want. Also, you can increase the saturation to your taste. So, if we move the hue slider towards green and saturation slider a bit less, what you get is a SELENIUM toned image, and if its on cyan, we get the CYANOTYPE.

See an example of Cyan toned image or 'Cyanotype' below.

There is one more method of creating color tone over black and white. In this, you simply create a new layer over the gradient map layer and fill it with the color tone you want, and set the blending mode to softlight. Adjust the opacity slider to get the desired color saturation. See below.

Now, we will be mixing these two techniques for color images.
Continuing from the hue/saturation layer set to cyan over the gradient map layer(see image before cyanotype sample image), set the blending mode of hue/saturation layer to overlay. Close the visibilty of the gradient map layer by clicking on the eye of the layer as shown below.

This is a high contrast cyan tone on a color image. See the result below.

Ok, lets do some high contrast CROSS PROCESSING. Basically, a cross processed image has a lot of cyan in the shadows, and yellow in the highlights. To do this, change the blending mode of the hue/saturation layer to hard light, and create a new layer below it and fill it with pale yellow and set its blending mode to multiply.

This high contrast cross processed look was quite popular in the 90s. See the sample below.

Now, lets take a look at how a low contrast cross processing is done. Begin with the gradient map of black and white over the original image. Now, create a new layer and fill it with pale yellow and set the blending mode to darken. Reduce the opacity of the layer to make the whites of the image yellowish. See below for judgement.

Create another layer on top of this and fill it with cyan and set the layer mode to soft light. Reduce the opacity to somewhere around 30, to get the duotoned image below.

Oh, by the way, this is how you create duotones also. Now for the first version of low contrast cross processed image, just hide the visibility of the gradient map layer by clicking the eye icon as shown below.

The color in the above image is a bit too saturated for our taste. So, we desaturate it to get the classic low contrast cross processed look. How? Just make the gradient layer visible again and reduce the opacity to around 50%.

The final image.....

Again, you can play around with colors. See how replacing cyan with green looks....

Ok, the last one is called Color Sepia by some, Coffee tone, Muddy effect and so on. Its used a lot on the grunge look(tutorial coming soon) and works best on outdoor shots, specially against sun.

To get there, we start with basic desaturation first. Just reduce the opacity of the gradient map layer to around 50-70%.

Create a new layer over the gradient map layer and fill it with coffee brown/dark brown. Change the mode to softlight, and opacity to around 40%. If the face is too dark, reduce opacity.

Now, make a duplicate copy of this layer and reduce the opacity more to around 20%. This makes a bright background dark. Since the model becomes too dark, what we do is erase her from this layer, to reveal the image from the layer below. Take a look at the layer thumbnail to see the erased parts.

The final image after selective toning...


  1. Awesome blog, I appreciate the write ups on the different photography and processing techniques. Keep up the good work, this blog one I check daily.


  2. What an awesome blog. I have learn so much from this blog. thanks you so much

  3. Super awesome, thanks for sharing such a nice tutorial.

  4. Thank you. Very helpful.