For over a hundred years before it was called “digital toning” it was known as “chemical toning.”  Black and white photography was enhanced by the addition of certain chemicals, and in the case of sepia this chemical was a pigment made from the ‘Sepia Officinalis Cuttlefish’ found in the English Channel, and applied to the positive print.  This is a unique chemical in toning, as most toning types work by replacing the metallic sliver in the emulsion with a variant silver compound of some type.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM @F8 1/1000th 70mm ISO 100

This second piece in our news series on digital toning is about sepia toning.  As we’ve previously discussed, digital toning presets are a popular feature set in Lightroom and most imaging software.  We’ll be exploring the genesis of the most common toning presets and how they apply to our photography.

For over a hundred years before it was called “digital toning” it was known as “chemical toning.”  Black and white photography was enhanced by the addition of certain chemicals, and in the case of sepia this chemical was a pigment made from the ‘Sepia Officinalis Cuttlefish’ found in the English Channel, and applied to the positive print.  This is a unique chemical in toning, as most toning types work by replacing the metallic sliver in the emulsion with a variant silver compound of some type.

Sepia toning gives the print a warmer tone which helps the print age better for archival purposes.  But why would we convert modern color digital images to sepia today?  Over the last century we’ve grown accustomed to seeing sepia prints and we associate them with an old style of photography, an era, a time and place in history which brings back special memories or sets a mood.

In the example above, a Thai fisherman in his sampan on a lake fishing, the sepia sets a mood and look which is just as accurate today as it might have been 150 years ago.  There is nothing in the frame to signal the viewer “hey, this image was captured yesterday.” In other words, sepia fits the period and feel I wanted in this composition and I think it works well.

 

The above picture imo doesn’t work nearly as well with sepia.  In fact, it’s a disaster.  Nothing in the composition besides a bit of plant life would have been around during the original era of sepia toning.  No mood is set, no era indicated.  Just a mess.  So why are most digital toning jobs in sepia I see of modern subjects?  I don’t know, but I hope this article helps prevent more.

Fuji Finepix F200EXR @F12 1/75th 14mm ISO 100

The above picture imo doesn’t work nearly as well with sepia.  In fact, it’s a disaster.  Nothing in the composition besides a bit of plant life would have been around during the original era of sepia toning.  No mood is set, no era indicated.  Just a mess.  So why are most digital toning jobs in sepia I see of modern subjects?  I don’t know, but I hope this article helps prevent more.