Photography Information

Sepia Toned Prints from Your Colour or Black and White Photos - 5 Minute Digital Fix


Quite often I will have clients bring in old photographs of their "elder" relatives that were taken before colour photography was around.

This generally means that the photos in question are either black and white or, in many cases, the photos have been tinted, usually a muddy brown colour better known as Sepia.

Some clients will ask for their restored photos to be produced in pure black and white even though the original is in Sepia.

Others will ask me to retain the warm Sepia tone and in fact there are some clients who bring in old black and white prints who ask that we produce a Sepia toned restored version because they like the "old world" feel that a Sepia toned print gives.

Not only can you create a Sepia print from your old black and white photographs, but it is just as easy to create that "old world" feel from a colour photograph as well.

The example image on our web-site is a simple colour floral arrangement which we will apply a Sepia tone to using Adobe Photoshop CS.

Step 1

After opening the image up in Adobe Photoshop CS, the first step is to remove all of the colour information from the image by choosing Image-> Mode-> Greyscale.

All of the colour information will have been removed leaving you with a pleasing black and white photograph with, hopefully, a full range of tones from pure white to pure black.

Step 2

If your image appears a little flat, or is too dark or light, then use the Image->Adjustment->Levels command to "tweak" the left and right sliders below the histogram (looks like a black "mountain range") to get the desired result prior to toning.

Step 3

Because we set the image "mode" to Greyscale in the previous step we do not have the ability to re-apply any "colour tinting" while the image is left as is.

So the next step is to select Image-> Mode-> Duotone.

Step 4

This is where the fun really begins ...

Make sure the upper left "Type" option pull-down is set to "Duotone".

This will activate Inks 1 and 2 field entries.

Step 5

You will now be able to select two colours (hence the term "duotone") which will then be applied to your photo to produce the toned effect we are looking for.

Click on Ink 1's colour swatch and select a "black" colour of your choosing.

I generally set Ink 1 to "PANTONE Black C".

Step 6

Now click on Ink 2's colour swatch and select a "warm reddish brown" colour of your choosing.

I generally set Ink 2 to "PANTONE 145 C" (which looks like a nice "warm mustard brown" to me), but you can select any brown (or in fact any colour at all) and watch what effect a particular colour has on toning your photo.

As you will see we have been able to turn a colour photo into a very pleasing Sepia toned print in less than five minutes using the "Duotone" feature in Photoshop.

But we are not quite finished yet ...

As you have seen you have total control of the tone colour by changing the value of the Ink 2 setting.

What if the tone colour is correct but the photo is still too dark or too light and/or flat?

Step 7

You can fine tune the final result by applying a "Hue/Saturation" adjustment layer.

You will notice that if you try to add a "Hue/Saturation" adjustment layer to your duotone print it is "greyed out".

You now need to revert back to a mode of "RGB Colour" by selecting Image-> Mode-> RGB Color.

You will then be able to add a "Hue/Saturation" adjustment layer and make final adjustments to the overall appearance of your Sepia tone print.

By the way ... Want to know where the term Sepia comes from?

Sepia comes from the Greek word for the rich reddish-brown pigment obtained from a fluid that is secreted by the cuttlefish from their ink sac.

The cuttlefish is a relative of the squid and octopus family (cephalopods).

If you find the steps being taken are a little hard to understand in this text based article, you can click on the link at the end of this article to see the same method explained on our website with the aid of example graphical images.

© Gary Wilkinson 2005 - All Rights Reserved

You can see this method complete with example images at Sepia Tone Prints from Colour or Black and White Photos

Feel free to re-print this article provided that all hyperlinks and author biography are retained as-is.

Gary Wilkinson is a photographer, photographic restorer and the owner of a photographic retail business. He is also the publisher of the http://www.restoring-photos-made-easy.com website, where other methods of correcting common photographic restoration problems are discussed.


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