Quick Photoshop Sepia Tone Effect Tutorial

Sepia, seek pronounced, “see-pee-uh”, is originally a brown pigment obtained from the ink like secretion of various cuttlefish and was originally used as ink for writing. Later, a more concentrated form was produced for use in watercolor paintings. Photographs of the 1800’s where primarily printed on paper that was not acid free and as they aged, the photograph turned brown or “aged”.

In modern photography, dyes where used to dip the printed black and white photo and recreate that “aged” look. The age looked is still popular and much simpler and less messy to accomplish in digital photography using photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.

While there are several techniques and third party plug-ins you can use and purchase to accomplish the sepia toned look in a digital photograph, the technique I explain below is quick and simple and doesn’t require fussing with duotones or quadtones. I picked this technique up from a digital photo lab I use and this is basically how they convert their images to sepia tone.

My directions will be for Photoshop CS2, however, this will work in any Photoshop version on a PC or Mac. Additionally, other image editing software that has a color balance option will work as well.

Step 1

Open your color image in Photoshop. FILE>OPEN (see Image 1)

Step 2

You will need to convert your image to Black and White. I use image editing plug-ins to accomplish this, however, for simplicity, you can use Photoshops “Desaturate” option: IMAGE>ADJUST>DESATURATE . This will provide you with a grey scale version of your color image. See image 2:

Step 3

You’re now ready to create your sepia toned photo. From your Photoshop menu, select: IMAGE>ADJUST>COLOR BALANCE:
You now should see your dialog box at teh top of your dialog box, there are 3 small input boxes where you will input the following information (see image 3):
# First box, place the number 30
# Second box, leave it at “0?
# Third box, place a -20 (that’s minus) in the box

You will notice that the sliders below the input boxes will move toward the Red channel and the Yellow channel. You should now see that your image has transformed from a black and white photo to a sepia toned photo. You can experiment with the tone by adjusting the numbers or sliders, but the combination I have provided makes for a mild sepia toned image.

I have found that the best images to convert to sepia tone are those with good highlights in them and images that are not heavy in vegetation or have lots of dark areas. While any image can be converted, not every image will look good as a sepia toned image.

About The Author

Alyn Stafford is a communication artist specializing in marketing communications and is a Southern California wedding photographer based out of Riverside, California. His wedding photography can be viewed by visiting his photography website at www.alynstaffordphotography.com

Image 1 Color Image

Image 2 Black and White Photo

Image 3, Sepia Toned Photo