Photoshop Image Toning: A Journey, Not Just a Destination

This is the final toned  version. Step by step thought process for this image follows. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

This is the final toned version. Step-by-step thought process for this image follows. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

I shot some images of a dying banana plant last week, posting one of them here on The Discerning Photographer the other day. I went back to that shoot yesterday, thinking there might be some other things worth toning and saving. I found something that I thought had possibilities and decided to work on it. The results, shown here, look nothing like the first image. Why such different results from the same basic shoot? I thought it might be instructive to walk through my thought process and the toning journey I took with this photograph.

Same shoot, two very different images. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Same shoot, two very different images. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The first image was pretty straightforward. I loved the subtle richness in the banana leaf and the way the tonality broke across the frame, going from parchment off-white to the yellows. Toning it was a simple process: adjusting levels, tweaking curves, doing a little sharpening and adding the black border. ( ‘A Basic Photoshop Toning Recipe’ here on the site explains this process.)

This second image, above right, was more complicated. Right away, I liked the composition but didn’t like the color. The greens and yellows in the image didn’t seem to work. I had passed over this frame before when doing the first edit. But what about some black and white version? I thought it was worth trying.

Using the Black and White Adjustment Layer gives you black and white toning within the RGB color space. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Using the Black and White Adjustment Layer gives you black and white toning within the RGB color space. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

First I went into Window>Adjustments to bring up the Adjustment Layers palette. This non-destructive work environment is something I’ve written about extensively in the past, and if you haven’t worked with Adjustment Layers, I urge you to give it a try.  The Black and White Adjustment Layer was my interest here: the image, while still an RGB, is organized as a black and white, with color sliders for all areas of the file. By experimenting here, you can create some dramatically different versions of your image, giving you amazing control over the final version. I also played with the Levels and Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layers, upping the final contrast of the file.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. This photograph needed something else. I saw it in sepia tones for some reason, and decided to try putting an antique patina on it.

Using Color Balance and then sharpening with a mask completed the work. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Using Color Balance and then sharpening with a mask completed the work. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Since the file was still an RGB, this is an easy adjustment. Opening the Color Balance dialogue box (Image>Adjustments>Color Balance, or Cmd>B), I added Yellow and Red in all three areas: Shadows, Midtones and Highlights.

Finally, I thought the area seen through the opening in the banana leaf would be more interesting if sharpened and brightened a bit. I did this by duplicating the overall layer, sharpening the underneath layer with Smart Sharpen (Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen), then bringing that area up by going back to the top layer and using the Mask feature to ‘paint’ the opening into the top layer.

Now for a black border and presto! I had an image that I liked.

But is this the only creative solution? Of course not! Photoshop is such a fabulous, intuitive toning program. I’m sure that if I toned the image again next week, I’d come up with something else entirely. It’s one of the wonderful things about this whole toning process isn’t it? As much a journey as a destination.

What about you? Do you have any images that you’ve revisited later and toned differently? Maybe your Photoshop skill level improved and you wanted to try a new technique. Or maybe you just came to see the image differently. I’d be curious to hear how you go about your Photoshop toning….

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related Articles on the Web

Discover Seven Ways to Create Sepia Images in Photoshop at Digital Photography School

The Top Five Black and White Photography Tips at Epic Edits

Black and White Toning in Photoshop CS3 at Layers Magazine

Posted in: Photoshop

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

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