5_bwpalettes_light

high key

1_bwpalettes_alt

mid key full scale

2_bwpalettes_classic

mid key high contrast

3_bwpalettes_highcontrast

high contrast

4_bwpalettes_dark

low key

Most successful artists define a consistent palette for their life’s work, for periods during their careers, or for individual bodies of work. It’s one of the primary things that creates an easily recognizable signature style. This is as true for black and white photographers as it is color photographers.

You can precisely describe black and white palettes by identifying the overall lightness or key (high – light, medium, low – dark) and the amount of contrast (high, medium, low, none) held in three ranges of tones – shadows (zones 0-3), midtones (zones 4-7), and highlights (zones 8-10). Put more broadly, the dominant range of tone is identified first and then each range of tone can be described as expanded or compressed; a range of tone that does not exist in an image could be described as fully compressed.


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  • brucehughw

    Wonderful post. I just found it. Any additional thoughts regarding toning and split toning, and how they influence a style or contribute to creating a feeling?

  • John Paul Caponigro

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes. I share many thoughts on tinting BW images. And there are several posts that address this. You’ll find the full list under Lessons/Technique/ BlacandWhite.

  • brucehughw

    Thanks very much. I’ll look for them. One of these days … I’ll take one of your workshops. Thanks for making so much material available.

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