Contrast of Tone





This powerful photograph by Arnold Genthe uses strong tonal contrast to give impact to the large, silk clad, merchant. He stands starkly in strong light against an almost black, shadowy background, where only the uncovered details of his body guard, clothed in black, are visible.

The starkness of the image and the ominous blackness, pose an intriguing number of unanswered questions for the viewer to interpret.

Arnold Genthe [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Arnold Genthe (1867-1942) “Merchant and Body Guard, San Francisco” (1920)



Yellow is the lightest toned saturated color on the color wheel. For high visibility road signs, yellow/black contrast and repeated diagonal direction make these barriers hard to miss. Red, at its most saturated, is a relatively dark tone. Contrasting it with black would have less visual impact than Yellow/black. White lettering on the red background has a fairly high tonal contrast. This, combined with the cultural association of red with danger and importance, make this road closed combination effective.

Maximum Visibility – Tonal Contrast.

Maximum Visibility – Tonal Contrast.