Understanding tone is critical to anyone who wishes to master
or print making. Whether it be film or digital cameras, or chemical or
Tone ranges from pure white with no detail to pure black with no detail with
an almost infinite number of shades in-between. It is common to refer to
these shades as shades of gray. For example, middle tone gray, light gray,
dark gray, etc. This does not mean tone cannot be used with color images.
In fact, there is no difference between measuring tone with color images vs.
black and white images. All images have the Lightness characteristic.
Tone is controlled in the camera, both film and digital, by exposure and is
limited by the type of film and sensor. If part of the image we are
photographing is dark toned and we want to keep that tone, then we have to
expose the film or sensor so that part will be captured as dark in our camera.
Figure 1. Tonal Range for Red
Tone is controlled in the chemical darkroom by how the film is developed, the
exposure in the enlarger, any dodging and burning, the type of paper and how the
paper is developed. When exposing the paper in the enlarger, a proper
exposure has to be made. Otherwise the tones in the negative will not be
reproduced in the print as desired.
Figure 1 can seem strange to those who are used to seeing a typical tonal
range in white-gray-black. The traditional white-gray-black range is more
representative because tone is irrespective of hue and saturation.
However, it is important for one to understand that tone management is just as
critical when working in color. Therefore, I use a colored range chart in
order to demonstrate this. We can see as tone transitions from Zone II to
Zone 0, so much detail is becoming lost (in both film and digital) due to lack
of light that the image begins to darken and eventually becomes solid black.
Likewise, as tone transitions from Zone VIII to Zone X, light becomes so intense
that the film or sensor is unable to capture details and the image begins to
lighten to the point of becoming solid white.
Tone in the digital darkroom is controlled by various controls in the image
editing software and is limited by the abilities of the video card, monitor,
printer, paper and ink. The computer and image editing software are
capable of recognizing more tones than can be realistically displayed on a
monitor and most monitors can display more tones than even the best inkjet
printers can reproduce.