enter image description here

I have been told that the "lips" in this photograph need "strong tones".
Now, what is toning and how to achieve that in black and white photography?

I used GIMP and all I did here was to select luminosity from Desaturate menu, and also I notice that this photograph is "Grey" not "Black"!


1 Answer 1


When you refer to the 'lips' needing 'stronger tones' this relates to an area of the image needing a greater tonal range within that area achieved by adding contrast. This is different to the term toning in black and white photography.

Toning is the name given to a process that adds an even colouration to a black and white photograph. Because the colour is even the image is still monochrome just not black and white any longer. Sepia toning is a popular example of this where a black and white print is given a warmer tone to soften the impact of the original black and white.

The photograph is grey because black and white photographs are not just black or white but all tones of grey in between, referred to as grey scale in digital imaging. Black and White is a misnomer in this sense but can be considered as referring to images that are made up of mixtures of black and white in various proportions in other words anything monochrome from black to white.

Here is a quick edit of your photograph showing what can be achieved by increasing contrast for the mid tones just on the lips: This was done with Photoshop but similar results can be obtained with GIMP. To achieve this I created two new layers that are copies of the image. On the bottom layer of the two I applied the contrast change to the whole layer. This is done with the image adjustment for shadows/highlights in the image->adjustments menu and increased the mid tone contrast by quite a lot. Then on the top layer I added a layer mask so that only the lips are visible from the contrast altered layer. I overdid the contrast slightly just to give you a good idea what can be achieved you would probably want to play around with the adjustment to get it just right.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you show me an example by editing this image and attaching it here, and also telling what you did? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 16:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @anishakaul: In GIMP, try duplicating the photo layer in the layers palette on the right, then change the Blend Mode from Normal to Overlay using the drop down menu above the layer list. Adjust the opacity of the layer to change the strength of the effect. This is a quick and easy way to boost contrast. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @anishakaul: I have updated my answer with an example as you suggested. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Round
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Paul, is it possible that this toning be applied ONLY to lips. I see here that my face in this picture has also been brightened! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 11:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @anishakaul: I have only applied changes to the lips the slight change in overall brightness must be a side effect of importing into and exporting out of Photoshop. I only did this very quickly so wasn't too careful about it, JPEG files will always import as colour and have to be flattened to B&W again so slight changes like this are not unexpected. Better results could be obtained by using the original colour image, converting it to black and white then applying the contrast changes before exporting as JPEG. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Round
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 11:53

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