Converting Photos to Black & White with Tonality Pro

« Lightroom project #2: Create a Long-Term Project |  An Interview with Portrait Photographer Natalie Fong »

You have reached the archive of articles posted on my personal blog. This blog is no longer updated, but you can read my latest articles at my new website The Creative Photographer and find my photography ebooks at my new store.

Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Tonality Pro review

Tonality Pro is a Mac only application that converts colour photos to black and white. It works as both a standalone program and a plug-in for Lightroom or Photoshop.

If you’ve never used a black and white plug-in before, you’re probably wondering what advantages they give you over Lightroom. These are the main benefits:

Presets. A bit like Lightroom’s Develop Presets but more advanced, presets give you lots of one-click processing options. One way of using a plug-in is to apply a preset and then tweak the settings to suit your particular photo.

More control over micro-contrast. Texture is an important part of black and white photography. Lightroom has one tool designed to enhance texture – Clarity. Black and white plug-ins usually have more ways of emphasising it. The technology used varies, but they all give you more options than Lightroom.

Film emulation. Some plug-ins have presets that emulate specific black and white films. This may be of interest if you like the analogue look. Or you might just like the look of grain (Tonality Pro has 18 film emulation presets).

Tonality Pro has an additional feature that I haven’t seen in any other black and white plug-in: layers. You can build up effects in layers, using masks to control which part of the image is affected. Layers are the main feature setting Tonality Pro apart from other plug-ins.

Now it’s time to have a closer look at Tonality Pro. It’s a powerful program, and I can’t do every part of it justice in a single article. Today I’m going to concentrate on two outstanding features that let you create black and white conversions quickly and easily: layers and presets.


Tonality Pro has a simple layout. The photo you’re working on is displayed in the centre. Presets are shown along the bottom (red). The panels on the right are where you make adjustments to the tonal values, add contrast, adjust the tone curve, apply split toning and so on (green). There are more tools along the top (yellow). You can click on the diagram to see a larger version.

Tonality Pro reviewPresets

Tonality Pro has over 150 presets. While it’s true that not all of them will suit all photos, you are bound to find at least some that work with the photo you are processing. The best way to use presets is to find one you like and use it as a starting point, tweaking the settings to bring the best out of your image.

Here are some of Tonality Pro’s presets. The first photo is the colour original, the second is the neutral conversion that Tonality Pro performs when you first open a photo in it. The rest are created with presets.

When you look closely at the photos you’ll see that some have more detail in textured areas, and that the red tin comes out in different shades of grey. There are even several presets that retain colour.









Tonality Pro review

Tonality Pro review

The main problem with presets is that they can be too strong. Subtlety is not always an option. That’s true of Tonality Pro’s presets, some of which look like bad HDR or as if someone has gone a little crazy with the Clarity and Structure sliders.

Tonality Pro solves that by giving each preset an opacity slider. You can set it anywhere on a scale from zero to 100, allowing you to apply it with a soft touch (all the presets listed above are shown displayed at 100%).

Here’s an example. This is the result of applying the Architectural Details Strong preset. It brings out a lot of detail in the textured surfaces, but – did I mention overusing Clarity and Structure? That’s certainly going on here:

Tonality Pro review

Dropping the opacity to 41 gives a much subtler effect:

Tonality Pro review


That’s how presets work, but how about layers? Imagine that you really like one of Tonality Pro’s presets, but you only want to apply it to part of the photo. Layers, and layer masking, makes it easy.

Here’s an example. I’m going to convert this colour photo to black and white in Tonality Pro. I’ve chosen it because the buddha heads have beautiful texture. Colour obscures texture, but black and white does the opposite and brings it out. We can emphasise it further in Tonality Pro, but as we saw earlier it is easy to overdo the effect. Layers help us retain control.

Tonality Pro review

This is the neutral black and white conversion:

Tonality Pro review

Here’s the same photo with the Architecture Details Strong preset applied. It brings out the texture of the buddha heads beautifully, but it also adds texture to the background:

Tonality Pro review

Ideally, I’d like to bring out the texture in the buddha heads, but not the background. This creates visual contrast between the two, and doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with too much texture.

The solution is to go to Brush Mode (click on the brush icon at the top of the right-hand panels or press ‘B’ on the keyboard) and brush in the areas that you want to apply the preset to. This creates a mask which you can reveal by pressing the Show button in the top left corner. Just like Photoshop and other plug-ins that use masks there’s an eraser tool so you can refine the shape of the mask (click to see a larger version):

Tonality Pro reviewHere’s the result:

Tonality Pro review

Finally, I added some more layers to refine the image. The out of focus object on the left is distracting, so I made it darker. I pulled back the highlights and the exposure a little to make the overall photo darker. I added a vignette and a split tone (click to see a larger version):

Tonality Pro review


I really like Tonality Pro. It’s powerful, easy to use and has layers – something that Lightroom lacks. It’s one of the best black and white plug-ins I’ve used and offers a lot of creative potential.

Hopefully this article has given you a taste of what you can achieve in Tonality Pro. You can do a lot with just presets and layers. I’ll look at some of the other features in a future article.

If you’re a Mac user and you like black and white photography then go and download the trial. Have a play, see what you can achieve. You’ll soon figure out whether you like it or not.

Tonality Pro resources

There are two versions of this software: Tonality, which costs $20, and Tonality Pro which costs $69.99. I’ve used Tonality Pro for this article, and it’s the version I recommend thanks to the extra features. The differences between the two are listed at the bottom of MacPhun’s Tonality page.

MacPhun also have a Vimeo page with Tonality Pro tutorials.

Further resources

Learn more about black and white photography with these articles:

How to Create the Black & White Matte Look in Lightroom

Creating Art with Topaz Labs Clean

An Introduction to Alien Skin’s Exposure 5: Part One – Black & White

DxO FilmPack 4

An Introduction to Silver Efex Pro 2

The Key to Successful Black & White Photography

Seeing in Black & White

And a little inspiration:

The Art of Black and White Film Photography

Inspirational Black and White Photos

50 Beautiful Black and White Photos (with apologies for the missing photos, one of the hazards of linking directly to Flickr)

Mastering Lightroom ebook

Alien Skin Exposure 5 reviewMastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White introduces you to the wonderful world of black and white photography in Lightroom. It’s a complete guide to working in monochrome that teaches you to see in black and white then convert your Raw files using Lightroom to create stunning monochrome images. Everything you need to know is covered, including the most popular black and white plug-ins and walkthroughs showing you step-by-step how I processed three of my favourite monochrome images.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments are closed.

« Lightroom project #2: Create a Long-Term Project |  An Interview with Portrait Photographer Natalie Fong »

Sign up for the free Mastering Lightroom email course