Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Black & White or Toned Black & White?

Rock Behind Ice Plant - Morro Bay, California
This monochrome image has been given a warm tone.
I recently found out that there are people who think toned black-and-white photographs are not true black-and-white photographs. Only shades of grey are allowed. Add any color tint and the image has lost its purity.

I think this idea is an invention of the digital generation. I don't remember hearing anyone claim in the darkroom that soaking an image in sepia or other toning chemicals changed the monochrome purity of it. In fact, toning black-and-white prints was the norm. A lot of photographers wanted to add a warm or (less often) a cool tint to their images to evoke a feeling. It was usually subtle, but sometimes it was obvious.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
This was toned, too.
Now that we use a digital darkroom instead of a chemical darkroom, we can accomplish the same look very easily. I posted about how to tone black-and-white photographs awhile back. I don't use those techniques mentioned anymore (I've discovered an easier and more effective alternative), but the article clearly shows what toning does.

I'll go a step further: all black-and-white photographs should be toned if it improves the images. Often monochrome photographs are made better by changing the color tint, because the emotion is made more obvious (even if subtly). We have a subconscious response to warm and cool tones.
Energy - Tehachapi, California
Yes, this is also toned.
The idea that black-and-white photographs are somehow no longer black-and-white photographs because they are toned is absurd. It's a common technique that goes back all the way to the 1880's. People should stop being so rigid and realize that art doesn't conform to rules. People should worry more about what makes a great photograph great and less about whether it meets someone's predetermined standard.

Finally, the argument that black-and-white photographs should not be toned is ridiculous because digital black-and-white is not true grey. Digital black-and-white includes subtle blues. It's already toned! Those who say that black-and-white shouldn't be toned have toned black-and-white photographs and don't even realize it. That makes me chuckle just a little.

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