It All Starts With Tonal Clarity

No matter where you go with image preparation, it all begins with distinction; the purposeful shaping of the image’s tonal values. Regardless of whether you prefer color or black and white, exposing detail (without over sharpening) is job number one.

YallerFlawer-O YallerFlawer-F



I suppose I could have either picked a more perfect flower or even “fixed” the imperfections in Photoshop, but the intent here was to reveal the detail, scars and all. Sometimes the truth ain’t pretty, but it’s always the truth.

Had I just published what I captured with the original shot, you would have never seen the amazing little hairs on both the stem and the business end of this flower. But they were there and now you see what I saw.

YallerFlarers BasicYallerFlarers Sharp

The simple truth is that camera image sensors don’t capture as much detail as the simple diagrams make you believe. While the pixels you see on the screen are perfect checkerboard squares, the initial image pixels that are captured by the camera are somewhat blurred due to RGB filter averaging and always benefit from a little additional sharpening during the editing process (see above). I didn’t go to extremes to reveal this detail, I simply made some internal tone adjustments and added some minimal sharpening.

Next time you edit you photos, think of how distinct the detail was in the original scene. Let that be your guide. Don’t overproduce your images. Just determine to show your viewers what the original scene dynamics looked like.

Camera-Bayer array

Think about it!

Please leave a comment.  If you find this worthwhile, please share it with your friends and sign up for more. This ain’t rocket science, but it is information that is many times overlooked (and sometimes overstated). Take some time to get back to the basics and your photographic results will give evidence that you did.

That’s the way I sees it. If you have an argument with this position, take it to a higher court! In the mean time, sign up (above right) to get personal notices of future posts. You can’t beat the price.

I enjoy speaking to schools, photo clubs and organizations every month presenting programs on digital photography, post production, and color science. If you’d like me to speak to your group, drop me a line.

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!

About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook Digital Color Photography from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color video series at Gotta Know
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2 Responses to It All Starts With Tonal Clarity

  1. Eric says:

    Excellent article,a nd excellent advice — especially about overproduction. Good one!

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