Toning Digital

As Photographers we’re familiar with the range of aesthetically pleasing and appropriate tones that can imbue our pictures with subtle moods.

For reasons of archival stability (pure silver halide photos tend to fade) and for expressiveness, photographs have been toned since the beginnings of our art.

We’re aware of sepia, selenium, copper, gold and blue toners and the beautiful effects of ‘lith printing’ to mention just a few of the time honoured wet chemical routes to achieving tonal changes in our prints. Weird and wonderful effects can also be brought about chemically by kits such as ‘Colorvir’.

If you aren’t familiar with these tecniques, click here.

With the dawning of the digital age, a whole spectrum of toning opportunities is now presented. We can not only emulate the toning of yesteryear but also create a whole fresh palette of new toning ranges. Additionally, toning offers a useful platform for hand-tinting an image.

There are three principal methods of toning with Photoshop:

1. Colorizing
2. Duotones
3. Curves

Way 1: Colorizing

By choosing the ‘Colorize’ route, we can tone either colour or monochrome (black & white) images. For ‘Colorizing’ we need to work in RGB so if it’s a colour file already, no problem. However if you wish to tone a monochrome image, you will need to either scan as RGB or change the mode from Grayscale to RGB. (Do this via Image > Mode > RGB Color).

Either all or part of the image may be Colorized (toned) in this way. To Colorize part of the image use either a selection to define the area or for the more advanced, go via the Adjustment Layer route.

It’s often preferable to create copy of the original image onto a new layer as this will preserve the original (as a ‘background’) should you so wish and allow subtle blending between the two layers by layer masking or blending modes. But you don’t have to.

To Colorize, choose this route, Image > Adjust > Hue/Saturation
Within the Hue/Saturation dialogue box, tick the ‘Colorize’ box.
Adjust the Hue and Saturation sliders to give the combination required then click ‘OK’.
It’s unlikely that you’ll need to adjust the ‘Lightness’ slider so leave it alone.

A more advanced variation on the above is to achieve the same result by the ‘Adjustment Layer’ route (Layer > New > Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation). This has the virtue of creating another layer that can be accessed later to make further adjustments to the settings you have chosen.

Taking the first and simpler route will irrevocably alter pixel values, and later adjustments are therefore limited.

way 2: Duotones

Duotones produce smaller file sizes than their RGB ‘Colorized’ counterpart.

Duotones are available via Image > Mode > Duotones (from a Grayscale starting point).

To create a Duotone we need to begin with a Grayscale image.
This could be an image scanned as Grayscale or one that’s been converted to .
To convert to Grayscale use this route, Image > Mode > Grayscale (if you have created ‘layers’ you’ll be given an option to ‘flatten’ the image). Next go to Image > Mode > Duotone.
Next, select either Duotones, Tritones or Quadtones. Each of these presents yet more options so let’s take a look at each one.

Duotone, this will use two inks for the image
Tritone, this will use three inks for the picture
Quadtone, this will use four inks for the picture

Each of the above types of ‘Duotone’ will give access to many pre-set tones, plus what at first appears to be a bewildering number of ways to make your own tones.
We’ll begin with the pre-sets as they give an instant starting point.

Saving Your Own Duotone Versions
You may save the particular tone you have made. Do not save in the ‘Duotone Curve’ box (you’ll have trouble finding it again, honest!). Save the changes in the ‘Duotones Options’ box – don’t forget to give your new tone a name – this new tone will then be added to the list and you’ll see it there upon opening.
Other combinations and colour changes can be made by clicking on the colour square and not the mini curve box. Doing this reveals the ‘Custom Colors’ dialogue Box where there is whole spectrum of choice. The ‘Book’ box shows the astonishing range available – click on the down arrow to reveal the spectrum. Choose a tone by sliding the twin arrows on the bar and click OK. The effectiveness of the change depends upon the shape of the curve for the tone. As you know, you can change the shape of the curve.
Returning to the ‘Customs Colours’ box. To give subtle (or wild!) changes to the chosen tone selected in the bar scale, click the ‘Picker’ box, this reveals a familiar colour dialogue box. The cursor will be at the preset point for the colour chosen but you can move it to any other point to effect changes. Click ‘OK’ or return to ‘Custom Colors’ by clicking on the appropriate button.

Tritones & Quadtones
Having gained an understanding about how to select and modify a Duotone, try your hand at Tritones and Quadtones. They all work in similar ways but with more colour combinations to modify.
Don’t ignore the so-called ‘Gray Tritones’ and Gray Quadtones’, these can be most effective for producing high quality monochrome images.

We can combine duotone/tritone/quadtone images with one another, including variations that we have made, however this cannot be done in ‘Duotone’ Mode. Only one Duotone is allowed at a time. To combine Duotoned images in a multilayerered image each Duotone must be first changed back to RGB – then, after copying-in, the layers may be mixed and blended. (Change your Duotone back to RGB via, Image > Mode > RGB Color)

Way 3: Curves


Curves adjustment is the superb way to create typical & unique tonings.

Even better, once you’ve made a curves adjustment, you can save that adjustment to a file, and then later call up that curves adjustment and apply it to another (different) image. This was just what I wanted!

With this method, the hard part (making the curves adjustment the first time) is more difficult. I’ll discuss that below. The good part is that to apply the curves adjustments, you just use ‘image/adjustment/curves’ to get the curves dialog. Then you click on ‘load’, select the file that has the saved adjustments, click on ‘load’, and then on ‘ok in the curves dialog, and Voila!, the image is adjusted.

To make curve sets yourself, just tweak the color curves and watch the effect on the image, then save the curves in a file using the ‘save’ feature of the curves dialog.

If you have a digital image that has the color shifts you like, you’re half-way there. This makes it easy to duplicate duotones, etc. Just sample some points on the image using the eyedropper tool, and try to find the RGB values for a spaced set of densities – using the info window, I pick points that have K values of 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and I record the RGB values.

Then make a new image and use the gradient tool to lay a gradient into it, like this:

Then, place color samplers at the points on that image that have K values of 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%.
In the info window, you’ll see RGB values appear for each of those color samplers.

Now, you’re ready to go. Add a new layer – ‘Layer/New Adjustment Layer/Curves…’

Now go through and adjust each of the Red, Green, and Blue color curves so that at the desired K values, you get the desired RBG values. In the dropdown box, pick ‘Red’. Now, with the color sampler tool, click next to the sample point in the gradient that matches the ‘20%’ color sampler – you’ll see a little circle appear on the curve in the curves dialog when you click, then it will disappear. Go and click on the curve at that spot, and Photoshop will add a ‘knot’ to the curve at that point. Now you can push that knot up and down, either by dragging it with the mouse or by clicking on it to select it and then nudging it up, down, left, right with the arrow keys on your keyboard. Nudge the spot up or down until the R value in the RBG for the 20% color sampler matches what you wrote down before.Do the same for the Green and Blue curves, and for the samplers for 40% 60%, 80%.

If the changes to the curves are minor, you’re done. If you made some big changes, you’ll need to now go to the RGB curve and make changes until as you drag the color sampler tool over the gradient, all the points have matching before and after K values (in the info window, it appears as K: <old>/<new>.

Finally, when you’re all done, remember to click on ‘save’ and give the curves file a name that will help you remember what this set of curves does.

original sources by Clive R. Haynes and Paul Butzi, edit by Celestin de Villa.
original source 1, original source 2


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