No two zebras are alike

The versatility of monochrome photography with Macphun’s Tonality

10 versions of the same photo, all done in monochrome, via Tonality

I’ve been converting quite a few of my images to monochrome over the last couple of months.  While I have always been a “big color” sort of photographer, I have come to really appreciate a good black and white, and I am starting to mix them into my own work quite frequently.

This all started earlier this year, when I converted over to all the Macphun tools for the majority of my post-processing.  Of course most of my time is still spent in Aurora HDR, but it’s hard to NOT want to experiment with black and white when you start trying out Tonality.  It’s just so good, so fun, and as you will soon see - so flexible.

While I think we can all appreciate the varying outputs you can get from an HDR editor like Aurora, I’m not sure everyone realizes that with monochrome shots you can also get a wide variety of outputs.  Well ok, maybe I just didn’t realize it.  :-)

Being a big color guy, I sort of thought that a black and white was a black and white.  You know, that they were basically just a color shot converted to monochrome, and that was it.  Oh, and that they were all basically the “same”.

Boy was I wrong.

I had no understanding of the wide variety of outputs you can get with a monochrome editor like Tonality.  I’m not sure why I thought all you did was just click a button to remove color, but because I never spent time on this stuff before, that was sort of the extent of my experience with it.  Sad, isn’t it?  But the truth is that if you never do something, you are never going to understand it.  So I dove in and have learned quite a bit!  Oh, and I’m hooked.  :-)

Now, after several months of experimenting with Tonality, I have come to realize that you can pretty much create any output that you want with the product.  Sure, the key theme running through them all is that they are monochromes (although, not exactly - you can get some color if you want to), but you can get a huge variety of options if you just take the time and get to know the product.  You can basically create anything you want - and it’s fabulous.

The world presented in monochrome is an entirely new and interesting one for me, and I’m having a great time exploring it, thanks to Tonality.

Why convert to monochrome?

Many photographers use black and white for fine art prints, to accentuate drama, and to create visually stunning images.  We’ve all seen (and maybe created) images like this, and they look absolutely wonderful.  But I think that many people convert a photo to black and white when it doesn’t work in color.  You know, maybe there’s a blown out sky, or something else is “wrong” with it.  Hide the flaws under a colorless veneer of old-school monochrome embellishment (or something like that).  

(Before someone gets mad, the above is just a generalization - though it definitely applies to my past behavior.)

And you know what?  That totally works.  I’ve done it myself several times.  It’s a way to “save” an otherwise useless pic.  In my opinion, you have a little more leeway with a monochrome in terms of drama, details, noise/grain, and more.  I don’t really know why that is - and it’s just an observation on my part - but it “feels” true.  You can disagree though - I’m sort of riffing here.  And I’m not saying EVERY black and white shot fits the above; it just seems like it’s frequent enough to be a thing.

And by the way, none of my above generalization applies to street photography (something I rarely try, but do have some interest in).  I feel like street photography is MEANT to be photographed in monochrome, as it feels more spontaneous and random than other forms of photography.  Maybe that’s just me, though.  Anyways, I digress.

Here’s the thing - I feel totally different about all of that now, thanks to Tonality.  It has literally changed how I think about monochromes.

I no longer look upon a black and white as an attempt to save an image from the trash can.  I believe they are intentional creations, ones that were purposefully and artfully crafted in monochrome for any number of reasons.  I get that big color isn’t everyones favorite thing, like it is mine, and that many people prefer black and white.  And now I have a better understanding as to why.

I do have to admit that when you strip an image of color, it does make you look at it differently, and at different things in the images.  Not having the distraction of saturation in front of you, I feel like you can actually examine the merits of the photograph: the lines, the details, the mood - whatever interests you.

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.” - Ted Grant

Yeah, I know, these aren't photographs of people, but I just loved that quote.  Appropriate, no?

Let’s see some examples, Jim!

I figured the best way to explain this is just to show you, so that’s what today’s post is all about.  I have taken a single photo and offered up 10 different interpretations of it, all created in Tonality by Macphun.  Some of them even have a touch of color.  Old habits die hard, and all that.  :-)

Just to make this simple, I didn’t even customize the photos each time.  These are all just a single-click preset that is applied to the photo, and I have listed the preset below each photo for the preset-curious among you.  

Ah, the power of Tonality!

Here is the base photo, which is a 3 exposure HDR of a cafe in Paris, in all it’s colorful glory.  It’s a photo that I just love, and it seemed to be a good fit for this little article today, partly because for me the color just makes this shot.  I would normally never convert a photo like this to monochrome, because I love it in color.  I think it looks awesome.  But after bringing it into Tonality, I really liked what I was able to do with it - all 10 of the below examples.  While distinct from each other, I think they all look great, and for different reasons.

The original, base image as processed in Aurora HDR - in full color, of course.  :-)

If you are interested in learning more about Tonality, you can read my review of it here.  I also did a quick video a while back that outlines the basics of the product, and that is found here.

The best thing to do is click here to download a free trial of Tonality, because I'm pretty sure you are going to want to try it out on your own images.

Ok, here are all 10 versions of the above photo, straight from Tonality with a single click preset applied and no further adjustments.  The name of the preset is below the photo.  Take a moment and examine these, and see just how different they really are.  Details, shadow, mood - there is a lot of variation here.

Preset = Architecture Details Strong

Preset = Basic, Boost Clarity

Preset = Dramatic, Forgotten Glory

Preset = Film Emulation, Kodak Tri-X 400 TX Pro

Preset = HDR Classic

Preset = Outdoor, Moonlit Landscape

Preset = Portrait, Old Hollywood Glamour

Preset = Street, Main Street

Preset = Toning, Copper Strong

Preset = Vintage, Pinhole Color

Tonality has around 160 presets included in the product, plus they have some created by other photographers that you can download for free.  The world is your oyster with this product.  You just have to get started.

And for those of you curious about how it works, here is a screenshot from Tonality.  Note all the menu adjustments on the right hand side.  You can move any of these on any image.  You can click on the word Presets at the bottom to bring up the preset menu.  You can add layers and make adjustments across multiple layers and blend them together.  You can do so much that I can't even cover it all here.  Just download it and try it out yourself!


Parting thoughts

The key thing about all of these photos is that taking my base photo and converting it to one of these outcomes - any of them, actually - was simply just a single click preset.  While all of these may not appeal to your tastes (although they do to mine), just know that the amount of customization in Tonality is huge and you can pretty much end up with anything you want.  It’s flexible, fun (or is that “phun”?) and very capable.

I could have a million different versions of this photo, if I wanted to.  And that brings me full circle.  Black and white photography is unique, interesting, and none of the photographs are the same.  Sure, there’s the common thread of them all lacking saturation, but that’s where the similarities end. 

If you have been on the fence about the whole monochrome thing, I highly recommend you give it a go - even if you don’t use Tonality (although I think you should).  You just might find that you start to look at things a bit differently than before!  It’s certainly given me a new creative alternative to explore, and I'm having a hell of a good time with it.

What are your thoughts on black and white photography?  Let me know by leaving a comment below!