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The Monochrome Special - part 1 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

by Tom Lee Published 01/04/2009

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"In essence it is about simplification of an image..."

Welcome to our monochrome special - it is just three years since we introduced one for Professional Imagemaker and therefore timely that we revisit the topic. Although technology has moved on in the digital scene, the underlying strengths of the mono image are timeless. In essence it is about simplification of an image,the reduction to just tonal values of a single hue, without any distracting colours to disturb the gaze. Although this is a simple ideal, the practice is somewhat more difficult to achieve.

The eye is very much more sensitive to colour differences in neutral or near-neutral tones and any unwanted bias will be readily detected. Generally a bias towards green is the most unwelcome outcome, a preference that extends back all the way to Ansel Adams. In his book, The Print, Adams talks about toning a monochrome silver print to ensure that no residual olive tones remain:

'In my opinion the olive-greenish values of many papers detract from the image, but they can be neutralised by selenium toning.'

Some things never change. In the same book, Adams says, 'The subtle colour changes of toning are more apparent under tungsten lighting than in daylight'. Adams died in 1984, well before inkjet printing really took off and metamerism was already rearing its head!

So what else can monochrome bring to the digital table? Well, for starters you can mix mono and colour on the same page of an album spread (or poster or advert or design layout). This opens the possibility of allowing colour images space in which to speak out from or conversely colour can be used as a muted background to allow monochrome to excel in its difference.


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1st Published 01/04/2009
last update 18/07/2022 16:31:49

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Updated 18/07/2022 16:31:49 Last Modified: Monday, 18 July 2022