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What are midtones in photography?

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by David Em
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In photography, midtones refer to the areas of the image between the shadows and highlights. It accounts for 50% of the tonal range.

Greyscale headshot with bokeh in the background.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

In photography, tonal range refers to the different brightness levels in an image. The tonal scale ranges from black on the left to white on the right.

Whether you’re working with a black and white image, or one in color, adjusting the tonal range quickly improves it. You can capture more or less contrast.

An important part of the tonal scale is the midtones. The following explains what midtones are, along with examples.

What’s the meaning of midtone?

Midtones are the areas of an image that are neither bright nor dark. Highlights refer to the bright parts of an image, and the shadows are the dark parts.

Midtones are all of the luminance values in between. In a greyscale image, midtones are easy to spot, as they’re the grey parts.

Related article: What’s negative space in photography?

Midtones are in the middle of the tonal range

On a typical tonal scale, the midtones account for 50%, while the highlights and shadows account for 25% each.

When it comes to brightness, midtones are what cameras in Automatic mode use to expose the image.

Too bright, and the details are blown out. Too dark, and the details are hardly visible. The midtones retain the most information in a photograph.

Examples of midtones

The following are examples of midtones. The images are in black and white because it’s easier to differentiate between the shadows, midtones, and highlights compared to color photographs.

Additionally, the histograms are in the image for your reference.

Greyscale headshot of a man with a histogram.
Photo courtesy of Canva.
Greyscale portrait of a woman outside looking to the side.
Photo courtesy of Canva.

Conclusion

Midtones are in the middle and makeup 50% of the tonal scale. Since it’s in the middle of the brightness levels, the midtones retain the most details in an image.

Along with the shadows and highlights, the midtones show the contrast levels and direction of light.

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Featured image courtesy of Canva.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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