The Importance Of Toning Your Images

Before the digital revolution took over the photo world the workflow of photographers was much different. Even thought I still feel like a kid sometimes in my photo journey, and am always trying to continue learning every day I have been shooting professionally over 12 years now. Before digital cameras came along you would make all of the choices of how you wanted each image to look before the shutter was clicked. The type of film you used was a very big choice, if I was going for a black and white photo I had many choices of films that would all give me a very unique look to that shot. So there were many choices you had to make before clicking on the shutter and it forced you to think about how you want the final image to be presented.

Now we have the freedom and creativity to shoot everything in color and make these choices later when doing the post production in Lightroom or Photoshop. The only disadvantage to that is sometimes we can get comfortable with the color image that we see right out of the camera and aren’t able to envision how it could look in another tone or what the best way to present the image would be. As part of my workflow I go through the image outside of lightroom first to do my initial edits and use categorize the photos into groups. I’ll go through the entire shoot and decide on what will be a black and white photo (and sometimes group by what type of black and white, something with a lot of contrast, grain, etc…) or group what will be a sepia tone or split tone. This way I am not doing any editing yet but just categorizing what I feel the photo should look and feel like. There is a lot of thought that goes into this process because a slight change in how an image is processed can completely change the photo. Sometimes stripping away the color for the image and having a stark black and white photo with great contrast can bring out the emotion more in an image while other times you want the nature color that was in the shot to enhance what you are trying to get across. When it comes down to it our photography is an art form that is also a type of communication. We are visually telling a story and always should make sure that each image is carrying across the feeling that we want it to convey.

Many wedding images I love a nice warm sepia tone to the shot for some of the more romantic images of the bride and groom or of the bride getting ready. It’s really a personal preference and we should all explore and find out own preferences on what type of tones we prefer for different types of images. The following image is a perfect example of something that to me was meant to have a nice soft and warm feel to it but also with a really high contrast to add some visual appeal to the image.

And here is a small example of the different feeling you get from changing the tone of an image:

First the shot right out of the camera. For me it doesn’t capture the romance of the surroundings that I really want to bring out.

toning in lightroom

The shot right out of the camera.

Changing it to Black and White does give you a very classic feel and can make you focus more on the emotions of the subjects sometimes. Still for this image not exactly what I am looking for.

Black and White Lightroom Conversion

A vintage style split tone can look cool but again still not the feel that I am going for with this shot:

vintage lightroom tone

Vintage Split Tone

Sometimes a warm/cold split tone can look good. The contrast of the warm and cool tones work only for certain shots though, in this one since I want a nice romantic feel to the shot that coldness you get with the blue shadows really doesn’t work.

split tone lightroom

Warm/Cold Split Tone Image

Finally by having a warm chocolate sepia image I get the results that really match what I was looking for.

toning lightroom2

A warm chocolate sepia tone

Toning your images is an important part of the artistic process of photography, don’t glance over it and remember that the tone of our images should really bring out the feeling we are trying to convey with that shot. Every image is different and should be processed to match your artistic vision! So lets all get back to editing and get creative 🙂 Also I always love to see your images, post a photo to our Facebook wall to share with the Digital Photo Buzz community here:

Also if you want to learn how to split tone an image in Lightroom check our this quick review: Split Toning in Lightroom and check out our Free Split Tone and Sepia Lightroom Presets

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. Great article! I tend to do more with toning when I’m doing black and white as well. Like you, I have a certain idea of how I want my images to look, both in color, and black and white. I like the different examples you gave…and in the end, I preferred the chocolate sepia with vignette the most!

  2. I need to work on toning big time. I usually remove the color and move on to the next image. Good article, thanks for posting

  3. This is a great article. I struggle with toning images because I worry that they’ll look over-edited. I guess it’s finding that fine line where the adjustments are not obvious.

  4. Hey … how did you made the vintage split tone effect? Can I download a Lightroom preset?


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