Zuber Photographics Home








Print Friendly  Print||All Topics>B & W>Color to B & W>Tone Management System Introduction

Introduction to the Tone Management System™

I developed the Tone Management System for a single reason.  To give me a systematic, predictive approach to creating black and white images that allowed the maximum control over tone in order to create the image I visualized.  I set out with seven objectives.  There were.

  1. A consistent method that converts to a pre-chosen black and white luminance of the photographer's choice.
  2. After the conversion to black and white, I still had full control of tone globally, locally (using selections and/or layer masks), by color range, by color channel or by targeting tone itself.
  3. The method was predictive.
  4. The method was intuitive.
  5. The method was non-destructive.
  6. Supports the creation of full black and white images as well as color/black and white images. 
  7. Most importantly, the method fully supported a visualization approach to creating a black and white image by giving the photographer the flexibility to precisely manage tone as desired.


Consistent Method

Why a consistent conversion method to a pre-chosen luminance?  For the same reason film photographers, both color and black and white, use a limited set of films.  If film photographers used a different make (Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Ilford, etc) and type (print, slide, color, black and white) and brand (Ektachrome, Velvia, T-Max, Scala, etc) of film every time they took photographs, it would be extremely difficult for us to learn the subtle characteristics of any film.  The same is true in digital photography.  When digitally converting a color image to a black and white image, starting at a known luminance helps us learn the subtle behaviors of digital black and white conversion so, over time, we can get the most from our images.  The consistency gives us a level of predictability that increases our control over the image making process.

Pre-Chosen Luminance

The Tone Management System allows us to choose the black and white luminance that matches our definition of tone.  The three luminance options in the Tone Management System are Measured, Perceived (also known as grayscale) or Lab.  The choice of luminance is up to the photographer.

Control Tonality Locally

Which pre-chosen luminance is used is not as important as the Tone Management System's ability to fully support adjusting tone globally, locally, by color range, by color channel or by targeting tone itself after the conversion to black and white.  Changing tone locally is the ability to use the various Adobe Photoshop selection tools and layer masks to isolate the image 'geographically' and then using controls such as Levels and Curve to adjust tone.

Control Tonality by Color

Yes, you read correctly.  I want to be able to manage tone by color in a black and white image.  Managing by color includes both color ranges and color channels.  Managing tone by color is not new to black and white photographers.  Using colored filters to darken a blue sky or green foliage on black and white film has been used for decades.  The one caveat to using color ranges and color channels in the Tone Management System is the original image capture must be in color, either color film or sensor.  If the capture is not in color, there is no color to manage.


Control Tonality by Tone

Targeting by tone itself is one of the strengths of digital photography.  The two primary Photoshop controls for adjusting tone are Levels and Curves.  Each allows us to select specific sections of the tonal range, such as highlights or shadows, and change them as desired.


Non-destructive techniques are any computer based image editing technique that changes an image's appearance without permanently altering the image's pixels.  Non-destructive techniques allow us to undo a change, even years after it was done.  The Tone Management System is fully non-destructive.

Color/Black and White Images

Full color and full black and white are the most common types of prints photographers make.  However, many photographers enjoy making color/black and white images.  I wanted a method that supported their needs without sacrificing flexibility.

Color/black and white images are not the same as traditional hand-colored black and white prints, where the entire image has been painted, typically with pastel colors.  Nor are they duo tones.  Color/black and white images are mostly black and white with a few select objects in the image in full color.


To see a quick example of a color/black and white image, visit the Black and White with Color page.  There is a link to bring you back to this same place.



The end result of the Tone Management System is not an image whose tones are an accurate replica of the scene at the time the photograph was made, unless that is what the photographer wants.  The purpose is to allow us to manage tone in a predictable and controllable manner so that we can create the image we visualized.  Simply stated, visualization is the art of seeing the final image in one's mind and then using traditional and digital photographic techniques to create it.


Table 1 below shows the concept of the Tone Management System.  Table 1 simulates Photoshop layers.  The bottom most layer is the color image.  Above this layer are one or more Photoshop adjustment layers that perform selected adjustments to tone globally or by targeting a color range and/or color channel.  For example, I could use a Levels adjustment layer to darken a blue sky by either selecting the blue channel in the Levels dialog box or by creating a selection using Select > Color Range to select the blue colors and applying the Levels adjustment to the selection.

Above these adjustment layers is a single adjustment layer that converts the color image to a black and white image.  The Tone Management System allows multiple ways of accomplishing this based on our preference for what tone is.  Above the black and white conversion layer are none, one or more additional adjustment layers that continue to allow us to manage tone.  These adjustment layers allow us to perform global adjustments or selected adjustments by either targeting black and white luminance, or by making 'geographic' selections.  The final layer allows us to colorize our black and white image, if desired, to simulate traditional black and white toning.




Black and white Toning


Chemical darkroom toning
Adjustment layers to adjust black and white tone globally, locally using selections or by targeting tone itself
Dodge and burn techniques, using different types and grades of paper, etc.
Adjustment layer to convert color image to black and white image

Black and white film

Using black and white film
Adjustment layers to adjust tone by color range and/or color channel
Using colored lens filters to darken/lighten areas of the photograph
Digital capture via camera or scanner

Color image

The scene being photographed

Table 1.  Tone Management Concept

Getting Started

The submenu links at the top of this page will take us to the web pages that describe the various Tone Management System methods that I have devised.

I recommend everyone read the Perceived/Measured Luminance and the Sample Images sections first.  Then read the four Tone Management System methods.  They are: Measured Luminance, Grayscale (perceived luminance), %K and Lab.  Afterward, the Example section takes us through the full conversion, tonal adjustment and toning of a color RGB image using the MCL method.  Afterwards, there is a short test to help with comprehension.


As a reminder, the goal of the Tone Management System is not to give you a black and white image that is an accurate replica of the tone in the scene or object being photographed, unless that is what you want.  Rather, its purpose is to give you a structure that starts you off at a pre-chosen luminance of your choice and then gives you the flexibility to target and change tone as desired.