Tag Archive for 'tone'

Tone Control – Focusing Your Light

The Forest Pool - In this split, we see the base toneapped merge and the final edited burns, dodges and detail work side by side. Not all images are this extreme, but tone control used well will always give your image that finishing touch.

by: Gavin Seim. Tone mapping and image processing without tone control is like having a lens without focus. It’s nothing new. Good shadows & contrast make an image. Without them we often get what I call the Flickr HDR. And trust me, you don’t want that ;)

Leveraging tone to keep the subject the subject and the supporting cast, supporting, is critical. Good tone control is what separates the men from the boys in the world of imaging and we can’t talk about it too much. I think we sometimes get distracted with the latest techniques. But generally they’re not really that new. They’re just new ways of doing things people have done on film for decades. Take HDR. On film, every image you made was HDR if you managed your light and processing well.

So then HDR. It’s not a style and it’s not judged on how many images you use, or whether you tonemap in Photomatix or Nik. It’s simply the management of a high range of light. You can do that with film, layers, tonemapping, channel mixing, brushes or in the camera.

In this example of a three exposure tone mapped image, you can see how much work I had to do to reign in the tone values. A tonemapped merge shows this more than a single file would. It tends to push everything to mid tones. After which, those tones have to be managed. Either that or you have mid-tone chaos. This is one reason I often manage dynamic range manually with layers, rather than tonemapping, but both are fine as long as you have a plan.

What I’m getting at is that an image must have a subject. Just one. Everything else needs to support that and it doesn’t matter if you have a single RAW or a tonemappped HDR with loads of range. Tonal control helps the eye focus. Without that focus you’ll nearly always have an image failure.

I’ve studied tone for years now with the legendary Ken Whitmire and even more on my own. It’s taught me to see light. Not simply that there is light. But what it’s doing for me. I see a lot of potentially great images that fail without any tone control. It generally means no cohesive subject. No one is talking much about tone. But if you do it right, the viewers eye is lead right to the subject, every time, no matter how many elements are in the scene.

Using the Zone System really helps with this as it quickly teaches you to manage tones better and make things as good as they can be in camera. See this article. On the editing side often a burn & dodge, brushes, or layering of lighter and darker frames makes the diffence. The bottom line is that while there is no rule on how we control tone, it must be done if we want a focused image that draws the viewers eye and showcases our subject.

This is something I go into at great length in my Lights & Shadows workshop and my EXposed DVD. But the main thing is to keep working with it. Cameras, the latest software and the latest techniques are useful things to study. But tone control is timeless and is never superseded. Without it we can expect our images to fail or to be little more than snapshots. Every time.

Happy tones… Gavin Seim

King of the Valley - Valley of the gods Utah, Spring 2012. A gentle tone controlled single exposure. See more of Gavin's American Pictorials on f164.com

3 Things You Must Master to be a Great Photographer.

by Gavin Seim: We all see differently and that’s good. We should never stop working to improve. One might even contend that you can never really “master” photography. But perhaps you can get pretty close, if you really nail down these and perhaps a few other essentials, taking control of the way you plan and capture images.


1 – Your Tools – A camera does not a photographer make and neither does fancy software. But don’t underestimate how important the tools are. Some sluff off knowing their gear, settings, apertures, shutter speeds, lights, software another tech stuff. That’s usually a fatal mistake. Don’t fall into the crowd that says “I’m an artist, so I just don’t get into that technical stuff.” Photography, like most arts, is both art and a science. And if you don’t master both, you’ll never be a master of the art.

2 – Storytelling – A great image has to have a subject and a story that can reach out and grab people. Uninteresting subject matter, too much clutter, messy composition, bad details, distracting lighting, the list goes on. Fail at any of these and you’ll never be great at photography. It’s hard to nail all these elements down with anything but years and years of practice and experience. But then, no one said this was easy. Until you can start clearing out distractions and really convey feeling. You’re just making snapshots. Those are fine, but remember. Everyone else it making them too.

3 – Tone Control – This may be the biggest of all. And yet it’s finer points are the most ignored. It’s the one most will never truly master. Everything needs to lead to the subject. And mastering tone gives you that power. Tone control is about seeing light in your head, understating how to manipulate it, and understanding how to control tones to make your subject and your story, sing like the sound of music. Even most professionals have not nailed down tone control, but until you do, you’ll never be fully able to control your light or the impact of your photographs. For more on controlling tone check out this article.


If you’ve mastered all these things, then you should be writing this instead of me, because I’m still working on them. But working I am and getting closer each day. Just remember that a camera is no more an artistic tool than a typewriter. It’s knowing how to tell a story with light, tone and line that matters. Like nearly all arts, there’s an aspect of science and an aspect of art you must master. Otherwise you’re just another person with a tub of paint or a ream of paper. For more

So lets get to work. Science + Knowledge + Vision = Art


A New HDR Video Training Workshop.

I don’t post here for every Seim Effects product I come out with, but I have something new today that I’m pretty excited about. HDR and dynamic range is something I became passionate about years ago. Since then it’s become more than a “look”. It’s become a way for me to better understand and manage light on every level. I think mastering dynamic range is an everyday essential for the serious photographer. It goes deep.

People had been asking for a recorded segment on HDR for years now. And I’ve finally got a collection finished. Enter, HDR Magic. But it’s more than Basic HDR. Over 2 hours of fully downloadable HD videos where I show you how I make HDR images and manage dynamic range on more subtle levels. This is the 2nd of my video training collections (the first is Cloning Magic). I love live workshops, but there’s something to be said for watching a workshop whenever you like.

There’s lots more info on Seim Effects if you’re interested. Of course as always, you readers can use code PPS to save 15%. Head over to the HDR page for all the details and and the first video. Hope you enjoy them… Gav

Controlling Tone & Dynamic Range with Lightroom: VIDEO

by Gavin Seim: It’s amazing how much information is in files coming from today’s cameras. I do a lot of HDR photography, but I’ve also been working to bring out dynamic range on single files. I can actually pull out more tones using LR than I can in Photoshop.

Today I recorded a quick video to look at brushes masking and Luminance tools to control tones. There’s an HQ download version on Seim Effects. I’ll also be speaking on LR at the PPW Fall Conference so if you’re in the region stop by. Why am I still typing? The video explains it all.

The LIVE online Lightroom Workshop with Gavin Seim.