Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member
Tone in photography refers to brightness, and by extension, contrast. Tonal adjustments are some of the most critical adjustments that you'll make to any image, and we perform them next because very often the process of correcting the tone of an image will also fix any color problems that it may have. You've already seen how to recover overexposed highlights. This image does not have that problem. One of the first steps in adjusting tone is to figure out what tonal problems an image has. And as we've discussed before, the histogram can be your key to that diagnosis.
You can see, from this histogram, that this is a slightly low contrast image. And I can see that because there are no blacks in the image, and there are no whites, and the distance between the darkest and lightest point is fairly small, not tiny, but it's not as big as it could be. In other words, there's very little contrast between this point and that point - I shouldn't say very little, but there's not as much contrast between those two points as there could be. I can also tell that this image is little contrast by looking at the image.
And you maybe think why do I need the histogram for? I should just look at the image. Well, sometimes even a contrast problem is difficult to assess simply by looking at it. You may look at it and think, now the whites are too dim or something, which they are. But in this case, what's really going to be more critical, contrast-wise, are the blacks. We've got some pretty bright tones. We don't have a lot of really dark tones. The main you know is that this images needs a contrast adjustment, and we have plenty of tools for dealing with that. Let's look at these sliders. You've seen the Recovery slider. You've seen that the Exposure slider can darken an image.
Watch what happens to the data in the histogram as I move this Exposure slider around. All of it gets shoved to the left when I slide to the left, meaning the image gets darker, because now as you can see, there are lots of dark tones in the image, very few light tones. As you would expect, dragging the other way brightens the image, to the point where I can even blow out highlights. Put that back in its default value. The Blacks slider - which comes in with a default of five - the Blacks slider moves only the lower part of the range. When we're working in tonal adjustments, it's important to think of this whole tonal range here as divided into three different areas.
There are shadows, there are midtones, and there are highlights. With the Blacks slider, I can adjust the shadows independently on the other tones. So there - now I'm looking at the histogram at this point; I'm not even really watching the image. I've managed to fill in a bunch of detail down here without affecting the whites. The whites are still just as white as they were before. In fact, I'm still lacking a little bit of brightness there. Now as you move the slider, you may think, well, no that slider is adjusting the whole image. I mean, this is changing up here. And that's true.
But remember, the histogram is a graph of the distribution of tones. So what's happening when I slide the Blacks slider in is I'm darkening a bunch of tones. Tones that were in the midtone area are now darkening up, and thus showing up in the shadow area. So I'm redistributing these tones. I'm pushing this data down into the dark end. Right away my image looks better. It's got a little more punch. It's got a little more pop because it's got closer to correct contrast. How far should I go with the Blacks slider? What's the measure of when to stop? Well, it's partly personal taste, but you can look for a more objective measure.
As I go too far, I start losing detail in shadow areas. And so how much detail you want to preserve is just up to you. Too much black will start looking a little weird. Now at this point, I could also look at the Histogram and say, whoa, there's no white. Plainly, I must brighten up some of this image to get some tones up there. And that's true. I can do that. I can use the Exposure slider to pull these over here. And technically, I still have the correct image, in terms of highlights. Nothing is overexposed. But in this case, I don't think that adjustment works that well.
The sky is now a little too harsh. It's actually probably a pretty correct sky, given that I was shooting in the middle of the day, but aesthetically, it's now as pleasing. So I'm going to undo that. And you can see that's before, and that's after. So I like it better with the sky a little dark. So you don't always go exactly by the numbers and say, well, I have to have to white, and I have to have black, and I have to have everything in between. There are times when a slightly duller sky is okay. That's said, this area still looks a little dim to me somehow.
The Brightness slider moves the midtones back and forth while trying to maintain minimal adjustment on the shadows and highlights. So that lets me put a little bit more back into the mids without blowing up the sky like we were before. Finally, there is the Contrast slider, which simply, in a way, slides both the white point and the midpoint at the same time. What's nice about it is it will spread out all tones. It will spread midtones into shadows, midtones into highlights. It will spread out the highlights that are there. It'd be a great way to immediately add a little bit of extra contrast when you're finding that adjusting the black and white point is not getting you where you need to be.
One thing to take note of - I'm going to uncheck the Preview button. That's before; that's after. Our contrast is much better, but notice what's happening to the color. Watch this grassy area here. Before, a little bit dull; after, it's very saturated. Same thing with the sky, although not quite as much, lighter blue, more saturated blue. This is what I mean about tonal adjustments will very often take care of color adjustments also. It's good that we did not go in before our tonal adjustments and say, ooh! This isn't saturated enough, and crank the Saturation slider up, because then after we've done our tonal adjustments and picked up a bunch of saturation from that, there is a good chance this would have been overdone.
So we do our tonal adjustments first.
Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.Become a member
180 Video lessons · 70328 Viewers
64 Video lessons · 92091 Viewers
86 Video lessons · 60329 Viewers
103 Video lessons · 28979 Viewers
Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.
Search within course videos and transcripts, and jump right to the results.
Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.
Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.
Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.