The Elements of Visual Design – Tone

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Have you ever been out with a group of photographers and wondered how you could all look at the same scene and yet create such different photographs? Learning to see is a very important skill and the good news is you can train your eye to recognize the visual elements to start to make great photographs. There are six main visual elements and this week we are going to start with tone.

Tone is quite simply a light value produced by a contrast in brightness. When you look at a scene, the various tones you see are the differences in brightness between the things in your view. Sometimes the range of tones within a scene can be very narrow, that is to say there is not much difference in the levels of brightness. At other times you can notice a wide range from pure black to pure white.

Let’s look at an example. In this image below, there is a large area where there is absolute darkness but there is also a small area where it is completely white, and there are other degrees of brightness in between these two extremes.

the elements of visual design - tone

Since our eye generally travels to the brightest part of the image first, we should use this to construct a composition that will draw the viewer to the most important parts of the frame. Here you will first see the hands of the man and then your eye will travel down his left arm towards his face and around up to the paper lantern to begin the journey again. Notice how your eye stays within the frame in this circular way and the darkest parts are mostly ignored. This illustrates the importance of understanding tone and how it helps to support what you are trying to say in your image.

Learn more about composition in our next Beginners Photography Class starting May 28, 2014. Register here! 

Next week: The Elements of Visual Design – Colour

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