Why I love Duotones in Photoshop

I grew up printing black and white photographs in actual darkrooms. The photographic papers had their own tonal variations, generally ranging from cool bluish tones to warm sepia tones. Favoring the warm tones, Kodak Ektalure was my all time favorite. I have experience with fine art printmaking and always loved the richness of the inks used in mezzotints, stone lithography and etchings. I found that I can adapt the palette and richness of printmaking inks into digital photo-processing for black and white images.

Part One

Duotones are not too popular in Photoshop as they are a bit cumbersome and mysterious. They do however offer some of the richest tones for black and white photography I’ve found in digital photography. There are ways to do this in Lightroom but I haven’t done that quite yet.

Basically, you use duotones when you want a black and white photo to have certain color charateristics. Duotones have 2 tones, usually black and another color. Tritones come next using three colors, and quadtones use 4 colors, most typically apeing the printing industry’s CMYK color recipe.

In order to create a duotone in Photoshop you need to do the following:

1) Open a photo in Photoshop. For this experiment, I’ll use one of my favorite sci-fi images of model Shana M.

Although you have most tonal control if it’s a color photograph. B/W photos work fine too. If you use a digital image that’s already black and white, you can skip step 2 and proceed to step 3.

2) Create a new Black and White adjustment layer — I find the “Green” setting works best for portraits but play with different options. It really depends on the image and your mood. There are also sliders for different versions, so go experimental if you want. The presets cover most bases however.  I actually went with the “Lighter” setting.


3) Once you have selected the perfect black and white look you need to flatten the image and then visit Image|Mode and first make sure you are in 8 bit and then select greyscale.

4) After you select “grey scale” you’ll notice that “Duotone” has been un-greyed out so you can select it. Do that and you’ll see something similar to this:


This dumped me automatically to the last tritone I was using. You can click on the “preset” button and you’ll see numerous presets. In either duo, tri or quadtone.

Part two

Here is where I started to draw upon my printmaker sensibilities and thought it might be interesting to create some of my own presets based on color schemes from actual etchings and mezzotints to create a some personalized duotone  presets. The curves used in the duotones are pretty crazy and perhaps you can make better sense of them than I can but here’s what I did. I experimented with duo, tri and quadtones and found the tritones to be the easiest and give the best results.

1) Grab any tritone preset you like, then find a print or photograph that has a color tonal look you’d like to sample.

For this example I’ll use the following print. This is art history allstar Albrecht Durer’s praying hands. I’m not particularly religious but was looking for a good blue print.


2) With your tritone panel open start assigning 3 color tonalities, 1 – darkest, 2 – middle 3 – lightest. Open the image in photoshop and grab the eye dropper.

medicine dropper

a. sample the darkest – copy the number, I got 354a4e

b. sample the middle – copy the number. I got 557786

c. sample the lightest – copy the number. I got a1b5c1

3) Open the photo you want to use as a duotone and drop in the numbers to the Duotone Options window.

Here’s what I got….


Before you close out the duotone window, create your own preset (where the magenta arrow is) and name it. I’ll name this one “durer praying hands_bluish” for future use.

But you’re not done yet! I never said it was easy.

4) Change your duotone from a duotone back to an RGB (or whatever color image format you like). Turn it back to 16 bit if that makes you happy — but an 8 bit jpeg or psd file would probably be fine.

Here’s the finished one.


Here are some others I’ve done.

IMG_9659-1-3-1-2For this one, featuring Nomibowie, I searched for a rich brown ink print and found the  following from UK Mezzoint artist Sarah Gillespie’s “Small Moth” pictured below.  Learn more about  Sarah’s art at her website. www.sarahgillespie.co.uk

Picture 3764

After sampling the “Moth” I applied it to the portrait below.

IMG_9659-1-2_small moth tritone quad

For the next tritone, I’m using a scanned copy of a 35mm Ektachrome slide of the Three Graces at the Mansion in Maymont Park, Richmond, VA.

IMG0006_2 copy-1

For this sampling I’m using Chad Nelson’s Bridge of Sighs mezzotint. I like it for its cool tones. Be sure to visit Vinlandprints.com to find out more about Chad Nelson’s art.

IMG0006_2 vinland-1

Other resources

Mezzotints. I selected two mezzotints because they probably offer the deepest tones available in traditional printmaking. Here are a couple of resources for anyone interested in finding out more about the process.

What it is

If you want to learn how to make mezzotints (I’m taking notes!).


Follow model/artist Nomibowie on instagram

Monoprints by Vance Cox


Thanks to printmakers Chad Nelson Vinlandprints.com and Sarah Gillespie www.sarahgillespie.co.uk for the use of their amazing prints!

Entering into the world of hipster photography – first images from the Sprocket Rocket camera

What’s old is new again. Even though I have a pro 5D Canon digital I’ve been nostalgic for film. I’ve experimented with “Holga” 120 and the 35mm “black slim devil” in the past couple of years and decided to try out the “Sprocket rocket”, another “toy” 35mm camera that features the ability to expose the entire area of the film, including the sprocket holes. The Sprocket rocket is being marketed by the “Lomography” company. The camera’s primary characteristics are 1 shutter speed 1/100 sec plus blub, two f stops (16 and 11). Panoramic. Plastic lens (great for crafty lens aberrations!). The film counter is a little white dot that’s hard for old eyes to see. Focusing is done by rotating the front of the lens with a minimal scale (.6m to infinity).

On a sunny 16 day, I went  for an urban hike in an industrial section of Atlanta close to the railroad tracks. I stumbled my way to the King Plow Arts Center, an interesting selection of art studios and businesses. The following pictures are from the art center and close-by locations.

Click on any picture to see in high res/full frame splendor on my zenfolio site.

Don’t think, just shoot!  Lomography is both a company and a type of photography. As they say on the logography website, “dedicated to analogue photography”.

10 Rules of Lomography

  1. Take your camera everywhere you go
  2. Use it any time – day and night
  3. Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it
  4. Try the shot from the hip
  5. Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as close as possible
  6. Don’t think (William Firebrace)
  7. Be fast
  8. You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film
  9. Afterwards either
  10. Don’t worry about any rules

Lomography gets its name from the Leningrad Optical Mechanical Amalgamation (nicknamed LOMO) that has been a manufacturer of cameras, optics, medical equipment, etc. Read more here.

Like the look of lomography but still a slave to digital? Try the free “Lomography effect” photoshop action at the adobe site. Click here.

I like using the “action grip” on light cameras like the sprocket rocket. Makes for a steadier picture and is more natural to hold. I got the grip originally to hold a flash for my twins lens reflex (mamiya c220). Below

Now where’s that beret?

Leap day evening well spent in Woodstock – Art car phone pix and naked ladies!

I finally retired my Motorola cellphone camera – click here for my previous “Motofoto” posting. I decided I needed more than 65 awesome KBs of an image. Here are several “leap day edition” photos taken with my new 3 MB (!!)  Samsung phone. In addition to still photos it does a passable job on videos. Definitely not iPhone quality but pretty fair. I’ll probably post some of those if inspired.  I happened to be attending a life drawing session in Woodstock GA and afterwards I couldn’t help but notice the car parked next to mine. Click on any image to view on my zenfolio site – order prints! The perfect gift for your inner hipster.

Art Car, Woodstock, GA

OK – that got my attention so I got busy.

As I mentioned I spent the evening at Kristina Laurendi Havens’ studio at her Figure drawing workshop. Kristina is a terrific figurative artist — check out her blog (click here)! Here are a couple of drawings from the class. Click the drawings to view in high res splendor on my zenfolio site.

Old Woodstock – Van Morrison

Unintentional Double Exposures

Remember film cameras? I do. This is what happens when film cameras misbehave, film sprockets get lazy or the photographer forgets to wind the advance! But sometimes the camera justs “knows” better and introduces a bit of spontaneity into a photo.

Click on the images to view in my zenfolio site where you can purchase or view the image full frame.

Buzzard tree and DC Building: I found a creepy old tree close to colonial “Evan’s Farm” restaurant in McLean, Virginia where dozens of buzzards were hanging out — they heard the food was THAT good! At about the same time there was an anti-KKK rally in DC. I think the buildings are from that event.  This is what happens when you don’t rewind the film completely into the film cassette after shooting.

Buzzard tree and DC Building 11/1982

The next two images are from a roll of 120 TMAX I shot on my last trip to Paris in 1997. I don’t know what my major malfunction was, perhaps due to changing lenses on my Mamiya C220.  I particularly like this first one that married two images; one of the beer glass in a bistro outside of the Pompidou Centre and the other from inside the Picasso museum. I couldn’t have done it better if I planned it that way.

Picasso museum and Wine glass at an outside bistro – Paris, 6/97
Priest parade and Notre Dame – Paris – 6/97

The next one comes from a portion of a 35mm b/w negative of friends Richard Gans (seated), Marty Harvey (pants in upper left corner) and myself (hands).

RM Gans, Marty Harvey (MLH3) and me 7/81

And here’s an interesting one I recently unearthed from a stack of unfiled negs. Good pal and ever-willing model Joe Lawson from college days at Emory and Henry. This is when my old Yashica 635 twin lens was in its death throes.

Joe Lawson gets a Pepsi – Emory, VA 1974

Closing notes

I’ve been threatening to do some film photography and “intentional” doubles might be a fun project. I’ll post if I do.

I’m doing a bit of spring cleaning on my zenfolio site. Click on one of the images above to get there — and leave a comment or two should  you be inspired to do so.

Behold the mighty Moto!

This posting features digital photography gone WAY low-tech. Pictures from my endearingly lowly (yet cheap) cellphone. I call these “Motofotos” after the “Motorola” cellphone I use. This is no iPhone, which actually take reasonably good photos. Motofotos are a Holga’s equivalent of the digital set. The mighty moto is only good for 640 x 480 pixels. The old “less is more” aesthetic. I take them into Photoshop where I use every trick in the book to squeak out some acceptable images. They are quite small although I use a Scott Kelby upsizing trick to bring the images to about 5 x 7 inches.  “Rule breaking Resizing for Poster-sized Prints”, page 168, from his “Photoshop CS3 book for digital photographers”. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Even 5 x 7 is pretty small for an image so it forces you to be more “graphic” (communicatively more simple). A fun little aesthetic excercise…and I always have it in my pocket at the ready.

Behold the mighty Moto!

This is not a motofoto, but the beauty shot of the “camera”. Dig that sexy mood lighting! Taken with my Canon S3is — since the Canon 5d was busy.

Checkin' out the rear view on Freedom Parkway, ATL

Shot recently while sitting in traffic and a perfectly framed vignette of the ATL skyline – in glorious sunset mode – came into view.

And a couple of shots at Pike’s, a local nursery.

Psychedelic ball at the nursery, Self-portrait

Not Pot

Neighborhood piggie

I came home one day and found this little pig who strayed from his owner’s yard. I lead him back home and managed a couple of shots. His owners, Arthur and Natalia, get the most interesting neighbors award. Their other pet is a cockatoo named Muffin. I must photograph Muffin.

Big chicken composite

Where would Marietta be without the Big Chicken? We would have no landmark and be constantly lost. This is a composite shot of 2 or 3 pix combined.

After the rains (Forest maidens)

Forest maidens are a composite of two images.


Ah, life in the south.  Shot yesterday.


Scott Kelby’s Blog If you’ve had anything to do with PhotoShop for the past few years you’ve probably heard of this guy. Also check out his PhotoshopGuys on iTunes and elsewhere. He has some great info and tips given with a heapin’ helpin’ of Kelby humor. His guides, while high priced, are worth it and will get you up to speed in no time.

Black Slim Devil – Roll number one

The “Black Slim Devil” is  a fun camera I found out about via photojojo…my favorite internet/facebook photography page. This is strictly a no-frills point and shoot. Literally. Just put film in, point it at something and pull the trigger. The camera has a really cool wide angle of 22mm! This camera goes in the Holga category of toy film cameras. The darling of the art student set.  You get some interesting lens flares, but other than that it’s pretty straightforward. For this first roll of film (only took me 4 months to process!) I used the 800 ASA Kodacolor print film that came with the camera. 400 or 800 is recommended, but most of these shots are of the “Sunny 16” variety. The sunny 16 negatives looked pretty good density-wise. I wouldn’t go any lower than 800 ASA/ISO for film.

For this test I had the film processed into prints, scanned basically automatically without much tweeking on my Epson 4490  Photo and no photoshop finagling to speak of…no color balance, exposure, etc.

I did notice a little bit of either camera or processing scratching, but will give the film rollers a clean before the next roll. Ah, the romance of film!

Click any of these photos for a closer look.

Here’s my beauty shot, below, of the Cobb Energy Performance Centre. A striking new addition to conservative little Cobb County.

The shot above showing some fun specular highlights. Nice prismatic effects too!

And for something different, a nice sunset for you. You’ll notice the heavy grain structure. This negative is very thin but the results aren’t too bad. This would not be so noticeable if using some noise reduction software. I use Imagenomic Noise reduction software for just about everything I shoot and it does a great job (also smooths skin for portraits!). This is kinda the sweetheart software choice for pros.

And in keeping with total disclosure (you’re not likely to see it again here!) here’s the film index. Pretty even results. Except for those three of my cat. Pretty thin! Super dark, no detail in the shadows.

In closing I think 800ASA Kodacolor is pretty good for outside sunny day stuff. I will try Fujicolor, my favorite color print film, next time. I’d use a higher ASA/ISO for cloudy or less light conditions.  This camera is fun! Small enough to fit in your pocket. Perhaps I’ll have to dust off my old F1 (Canon F1s rule!) . I do have a really sweet 17mm non-fisheye Tokina wideangle lens for it.

Additional info

photojojo.com : They put the “fun” in “funtography”! Hey, I should copyright that. Go to their store page for info about the Black Slim Devil. They also have a “White Slim Angel” model for less devious artists. The camera came packaged with a couple of toy dinosaurs. photojojo is the best!

holga :   The most fun art student toy camera. Uses 120 film. Available either with or without flash. Infamous light leaks and unexpected shots. If this doesn’t bring out your spontaneous nature, nothing will. You don’t have to be an angle-headed hipster art student clad in black, but it doesn’t hurt! Beret not included. More on holgas if I post any holga-pix.

imagenomic : Noise reduction plug-in for photoshop. Also standalone package available. There are free evaluation copies available. Worth the hundred bucks or so.

sunny 16 : The rule that if it’s sunny outside, when your f stop is set at 16, the shutter speed is determined by the asa of your film speed.  So if shooting 400 asa/iso film on a sunny day, set the f stop at 16 and the shutter will be 1/400th sec. Pretty neat! Also the name of an EP by Ben Folds.

POSTLOGUE: A 10 year followup on the BSD – not good!

June 1, 2020. While this was an interesting toy camera to try, it’s been 10 years since this blog post and I though I’d give an update. I found the BSD and thought I’d put a roll of film in it and take it for a spin. When I picked it up the vinyl or plastic black coating had somehow liquefied or at least had gotten ultra sticky. Into the trash it went. Long live the BSD, it was fun while it lasted ; (

Earth day Special Edition, Washington DC 4/1990

Here are several shots from Earth day at the Mall, Washington DC. Includes one of my all time favorites…”The CIA is poisoning my food”. Shot with Canon F1 (F1’s RULE!!) on TMAX 400. Click the photo for greater detail.

The “CIA” shot is from a high quality scan, courtesy the fine folks at Tommy Cat Scanomaniax. High res reprints available on my zenfolio website if you’re interested.

Marietta drive-bys 4/18/10

I went out today to buy some guitar strings. Here are a couple of drive-by shots along the way to the music store. First up, some photos of a local ultra right bar that always have incendiary comments on their sign. Coming and going. Click on images to zoom in.

Mulligan's 041810 - Side 1

Mulligan's 041810 Side 2

Mulligan’s also got in the news for a t-shirt depicting Obama as Curious George. Below is a video from an Atlanta news station report.

And on a lighter side, here is local artistic luminary Mona after a day at the spa. I have been following her work. Please visit previous Mona post for comparison. She is much prettier yes? Will post again if she “transitions”.

Revitalized Mona 041810

And in closing…

Florence – 1977

Inaugurating this site with some shots from a visit to Florence just after finishing up College in the Spring of 1977.  These were taken originally with a Canon FTB or TLB in Tri-X.  High quality scans courtesy of my favorite brother (in Photography, Music and … brother-ness).