This summer I have been experimenting again with watercolour painting. I found myself drawn to try painting as it is another way of deepening the connection with my surroundings and encouraging me to look more deeply into whatever I see. As I have been reading up on the subject, I have been interested to discover that experts sometimes recommend using a black and white image of your subject as a reference to help identify the tones in the scene.
These days I rarely photograph anything in colour, and I am finding that my ability to read the tones in a scene is growing daily. Even if you wish to display photographs (or paintings!) in colour, an understanding of tones has a direct influence on the success of the final image. Tone is not about the shade or hue of the colour, but rather about how dark it is.
For example, a display of white daisies against the green of their leaves will stand out much better than a red rose would. This is because red (and orange and strong pink) are of a similar tone to green. In monochrome they all show up as mid grey, with the result that there is little contrast in the image. One way to help here is to introduce some strong directional light. If you can position the flower such that the leaves are in the shade, this will improve the contrast because the relative difference in the tones will be greater. Even if you don’t like monochrome images, it’s well worth looking at your digital images in this way in order to assess the range of tones you have in the scene before you go ahead.
Oddly, although I like to photograph in monochrome, my paintings are all brightly coloured!