Contrast and Affinity: Tone

Posted on  by sleduc

Creative Commons image Coffee Toned Mountains by Lenny K Photography at Flickr

The following information was adapted from Bruce Block’s The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media chapter 5 starting on p. 119.


  1. Create a blog post titled, Contrast and Affinity: Tone
    • Create the following headings
      • Summary
      • Terms and Concepts
      • Films to Watch
      • Controlling Tone Production
      • What I Learned
  2. Define terms and concepts
  3. Watch scenes from selected films that showcase the visual structure
  4. Create a short film that emphasizes the visual structure and embed in your blog post
  5. Write what you learned
    • Include feedback about the film
  6. Invite someone edit your blog post
  7. Turn in a blog post feedback form

Terms and Concepts

Tone is the easiest visual component to explain and understand. Tone does not refer to the tone of a script (angry, happy) or sound qualities (bass, treble). Tone refers to the brightness of objects.

1. Controlling the Gray Scale

  • There are three ways to control the tone, or brightness, of objects in a shot:
    • Reflective Control (Art Direction)
    • Incident Control (Lighting)
    • Exposure (Camera and Lens Adjustments)

2. Coincidence and Non-coincidence (of Tone)

  • Coincidence and non-coincidence of tone refers to the relationship between tonal organization of the shot and the subject of the shot
  • Coincidence of tone occurs when the tonal range reveals the reveals the subject
    • Coincidence of ToneBlock, Bruce. The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media (p. 125).
  • Non-coincidence of tone occurs when the tonal range obscures the subject
    • Non-coincidence of ToneBlock, Bruce. The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media (p. 125).

3. Contrast and Affinity

  • Remember principle of contrast and affinity can occur within the shot, from shot to shot, and from sequence to sequence

Films to Watch

  • Contrast of Tone
    • T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948)
      • Directed by Anthony Mann
      • Written by John Higgins
      • Photographed by John Alton
      • Art Direction by Edward Jewell
  • Contrast and Affinity of Tone 
    • Kill Bill (2003)
      • Directed by Quentin Tarantino
      • Written Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman
      • Photographed by Robert Richardson
      • Production Design by Yohei Taneda and David Wasco
  • Tonal Control Due to Reflectance or Incidence 
    • The Conformist (1969)
      • Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
      • Written by Bernardo Bertolucci
      • Photographed by Vittorio Storaro
      • Production Design by Fernando Scarfiotti
    • Manhattan (1979)
      • Directed by Woody Allen
      • Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
      • Photographed by Gordon Willis
      • Production Design by Mel Bourne

Controlling Tone in Production

If you are preparing a production, you have the chance to control the tonal range or brightness of your pictures before production begins using art direction. If you are arriving after preparation is completed, you’ll have to rely on lighting for tonal control.

1. Find the subject. You must know where you want the audience to look. If there is no movement, they will usually watch the brightest area of the frame.

2. Don’t confuse color with tone. You probably are shooting in color, but evaluate your lighting by ignoring the color. Shoot a black and white test photograph or watch a black and white monitor to accurately judge your lighting work.

3. Hide or reveal objects. Use tone to emphasize important objects and hide unimportant objects. Consider how non-coincidence of tone can be used.

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Posted in Le DucTagged AffinityBlockCinematographyContrastFilmIBStoryToneVisual