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What Are Tones?

The tonal range of an image is the range of dark to light tones, from a complete absence of brightness (black) to the brightest possible tone (white), and all the middle tones in between. Because all values for tones fall into a continuous spectrum between black and white, it’s easiest to think of a photo’s tonality in terms of a black-and-white or grayscale image.

In conventional photography, grayscale images (which we call black-and-white photos) are easy to understand. Or, at least, that’s what we think. When we look at a black-and-white photo, we think we’re seeing a continuous range of tones from black to white, and all the grays in between. But, that’s not exactly true. The blackest black in any photo isn’t a true black, because some light is always reflected from the surface of the print. The whitest white isn’t a true white, either, because even the lightest areas of a print absorb some light (only a mirror reflects close to all the light that strikes it).


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