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- p52 : a play on light
- p52.2 : framed
- month 01 : framing
- month 02 : balance
- month 03 : lines
- month 04 : lens choice
- month 05 : aspect ratios and camera position
- month 06 : patterns & contrast
- month 07 : tonality
- month 09 : portraiture
- month 08 : color theory
- month 10 : complexity
- month 11 : classic rules of composition
- month 12 : creative techniques
- photographer’s choice
- p52.3 : perspectives
52.2 month 07 : tonality
High Key, Low Key, Mid Key, Split Tone
It’s a new month for Photo 52: Framed and we will be delving into tonality as a means to create or enhance the mood of our images. While not a compositional technique, our goal is to intentionally match the lighting quality in our images with our subject matter. Tonality includes the amount of contrast as well as the qualities of the whites and blacks within an image. For this first week we will be using high key lighting to set the tone for our compositions. This lighting technique is most often used to create very bright, clean images, lacking in shadows and darker tones. Much commercial work has this look, as it is most easily achieved in a studio setting using artificial lighting and a white or similarly light background. Upbeat, modern and distraction-free are hallmarks of a high key image.
Last week we experimented with high key images. Created by bright, light tones and whites, these images evoke emotions to match – happy, upbeat and high energy. On the opposite end of the spectrum is low key lighting. This intense style of lighting emphasizes the dark and black tones in an image, with very little in the way of whites or highlights. The resulting images tend towards the dramatic and mysterious. There are endless options for how to create these images, but the use of dark tones, deep colors, and strong shadows should direct the viewer to the subject, creatively and with drama.
This week we continue to experiment with tone and mood in our compositions. While high key images are created with bright light tones and low key photographs rely on shadowy dark tones, mid key images are created by isolating the mid-level tones. It may be subtle and pleasing rather than dramatic and often appears better in color than a monochromatic scheme. Colors can be complimentary and yet the same key, so although in black and white everything would blend, in color it works. One of the issues to keep in mind when playing in mid key is that although consistency of tone can help your subject and their surroundings appear well-aligned, the trick is to make sure your subject doesn’t get lost.
In the first three weeks of this month, we took a disciplined approach to tone in composition. We explored the effects of enforcing consistency of tone in our backgrounds and often even our subjects:first bright/high tones, then low/dark tones, then a middle level. The resulting mosaics of our collected photos were remarkable for their cohesiveness and harmony. This week, expect some more variety as we each explore mixing tones in creative ways. Some of us will reintroduce dramatic contrasts to our compositions by combining different tones. Some may counterbalance the expected mood conveyed by tone, for example with a serious expression from a subject in a light, airy high-key photo. Others may explore tone with post-processing, perhaps with split toning of black and white photos, a technique that goes back to the days of the darkroom. The “split” part of the technique introduces a color cast that can be isolated to highlights without affecting the mid-tones or shadows, or vice versa. The result is a cross-processed look or a duotone effect that can give a little extra punch to a monochromatic image.
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