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Mini Review: Tonality (Spoilers: It Makes Great Black and Whites)

So many of us started photography with black and white processing and the love of monochrome has stuck with us. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston still haunt my dreams with black skies over Yosemite and pleated peppers. Digital black and white photography is even better because we have more control, far more options, and our fingers don’t smell like Rodinol. There are several terrific ways to make your pictures black and white, but the most powerful and my personal favorite is by using Macphun’s Tonality.

Tonality has an intuitive interface, presets that make sense and help you achieve all kinds of finishes, and it has layers for absolute control. Of course, Macphun (“Mac-fun”) makes photography tools for Apple computers only; in my opinion, this is the best black and white tool, and I would switch to Mac so I could use it. But then, I really enjoy black and white.

For Portraits

levi_sim-2-2Any good color photo is a good candidate for black and white and especially portraits. Ted Grant said, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls.” Part of the sense of timelessness of BW portraits is that the fashion, so closely associated with colors, is muted and the eyes shine through.

Tonality works as a standalone or as a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop and as an extension for Apple Photos. Upon opening a photo, you’ll find it’s a clean and modern interface with good design. Full manual controls are laid out in palettes on the right, but I recommend starting with a preset, listed at the bottom right.

The presets are divided into categories, but remember that these are just suggestions. There’s no rule saying you can’t use a portrait preset on a landscape. Furthermore, there’re no secrets in the presets because all they do is move the sliders to starting positions; you can move the sliders in any of the sections again for more or less effect.

levi_sim-ss-1

One thing that sets Tonality apart from other black and white editors is that it includes layers. As such, each preset includes a slider that reduces density. I chose the Fashion Magazine 1 preset from the Portrait section and reduced it a little. Another feature that sets tonality apart is the Clarity and Structure palette which offers detail enhancement with fine control. The protection slider reduces the effect on highlight areas (like faces and clouds) so that they don’t look over-sharpened and fake. I’m a big fan of colored filters in black and white photography, which affect the brightness based on the original colors in a picture, and Tonality’s Color Filter palette is top-notch.

When you hit Apply, the picture is saved and imported back into Lightroom. Incidentally, whenever you use a plugin from Lightroom, always send an uncropped version for editing. When you send a picture to a plugin, Lightroom sends the cropped view you see on your screen. Uncrop so you have options later. If you’ve cropped it to 8×10 before you send it to Tonality, but your client ends up wanting a 24×36 print, you’ll have to crop it again to get those proportions and you’ll lose megapixels and the resulting crop may not look as you’d like. Uncrop before sending to Tonality, and then crop it again in Lightroom.

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The results are good, and they’re much better than I can get in Lightroom alone–especially when it comes to using the Color Filters. Lightroom can adjust the color channels for brightness, but it’s likely to create a lot of artifacts in a sky or skin tones with a gradient.

levi_sim-1-2
Lumix GX8, Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art lens, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 200.

For Landscapes

Tonality is a fine finishing tool. This picture started as an HDR compiled in Photomatix, and I used Tonality to finish it off. One of the things I most like about the color version is the warmth pouring from the clouds, so I chose the Sandstorm preset which includes split toning. I made a few tweaks in the Clarity and Structure palette, adjusted the Split Toning, then added another layer.

Adding a layer lets you selectively apply the settings you make on that layer with a brush. In this case, I wanted to add a vignette, but I didn’t want it applied to the sky. I set the vignette settings, then activated the brush, which made the vignette disappear until I brushed it back in. The vignette sliders are still adjustable, and I can add other effects on layers, too, which makes this a powerful tool for finessing the finish on your black and whites.

 

Conclusion

If you dream of crafting high-quality monochrome photographs, then I think Tonality is for you. It’s the next evolution of excellent tools, and it offers advances in the tools you’re used to seeing in a black and white editor. Furthermore, at just US$69.99, it’s one of the least expensive photography tools you can buy. Macphun has several other tools that can help you finish your pictures, as well. Check them out at Macphun.com

Highly recommended.

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