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Is there a misconception about Sepia???

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  • Is there a misconception about Sepia???

    Please bare with me here. I am a newbie at all this and I am just trying from history from being rewritten. I know nothing about Sepia, except I see a lot of it in old photo's. I am currently trying to restore one. The Photographer I am working with supplied me the photo to retouch. I ask him if the customer wanted to retain some of the sepia color. He said yes, I said that is caused from aging isn't it ? He bluntly said "No"! He has been a good photographer for 35 years in business here in town and knows his stuff. According to him" it was a treatment to make the photo last longer, they just did it a long time ago". I am confused now, what is the truth about Sepia? After searching the net I came up empty. Thank you for your thoughts!!!

  • #2
    Sepia is normally caused by aging. There could possibly be a process that was used to preserve the photos, but all the sepia I've ever seen has been due to age.

    - Noel

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    • #3
      Sepia is a number of things;

      -it is used as a loose term to describe a brown and white as opposed to a black and white photo. To some this means a certain color brown, others think any color of brown is sepia.

      -photographers who are familiar with darkroom techniques know that sepia toner is available to brown tone black and white prints. In the case of Kodak Sepia Toner and in other formulaes I have seen in old (75 years old) books, it is a bleach and redevelop process. The print is soaked in a special bleach until the image almost disapears, then the photo is washed and put into a bath rich in sulphide or sulpher (I don't remember which). The sulphide attaches itself to the silver in the paper and becomes brown where it once was black. There is also gold toner (with gold in it), brown toner (with copper in it), selenium toner, along with others. Different photographic papers give a different toned color with each toner paper combination, so if a photographer has only used one combination, they will swear that is the official color for sepia. Sepia on different papers will normally range in tone from the real yellow browns to a chocolate brown, instead of the red or blue browns.

      Where he got the idea that they sepia toned their photos to last longer is that toned photos do last longer. The metal or sulphide depending on the toner used is more stable than silver (the unstableness of siver is what makes it work for the photographic process). Photographers tone their photos to make them more archival. He puts this information together with the fact that he is looking a brown photos and assumes they were originally brown toned.

      I think some of the photos were toned (toning has been around as long as long as the printing on photographic paper has been with us) and some of the photos have turned brown with age. And I don't know any way to tell the difference one way or the other with out referring a sample to a chemist for testing - so I tend to usualy just nod my head in agreement when people make any of the available statments about old photos or sepia - except for here of course ... since you asked ...

      The white part of the paper did start out close to white (warm or cool white depending on the paper and whether it was toned), and turning brown and fading of that is from age.

      Hope this all helps,
      Roger

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      • #4
        The only thing to add to Roger's masterful summary is that, from a practical point of view, it is almost always easier to restore a photograph as "pure" black and white and then add a sepia tone in afterwards than to try to maintain the original tone throughout the restoration.

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        • #5
          There were also many instances when soldiers in the field used coffee to give a sepia effect (nothing else available). I doubt that it made a difference in print stability, but it was an intentional toning method. It seems to me that the customer should be the one to decide whether or not the sepia or brown tones are preserved in a restoration. As Roger mentioned, some methods did in fact help the longevity of prints.

          Ed

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          • #6
            Ed,

            soldiers - coffee - on purpose ... I could see a photographer experimenting, but a soldier out in the field saying 'it would be really pretty if this photo was brown - lets give it a soak in the brew' - that is a paradym shift for my brain, Thanks.

            This reminds me, I had a friend who I helped print some 24x30 fiber prints 20 years ago. After toning some of the prints were toned in tea to yellow the light areas to give it an older look. One of the concerns though was that the tea might introduce natural biological material that attracted mold, so we only experimented with this on a few of the prints.

            Roger

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            • #7
              Originally posted by roger_ele
              -photographers who are familiar with darkroom techniques know that sepia toner is available to brown tone black and white prints. In the case of Kodak Sepia Toner and in other formulaes I have seen in old (75 years old) books, it is a bleach and redevelop process. The print is soaked in a special bleach until the image almost disapears, then the photo is washed and put into a bath rich in sulphide or sulpher (I don't remember which). The sulphide attaches itself to the silver in the paper and becomes brown where it once was black. There is also gold toner (with gold in it), brown toner (with copper in it), selenium toner, along with others. Different photographic papers give a different toned color with each toner paper combination, so if a photographer has only used one combination, they will swear that is the official color for sepia. Sepia on different papers will normally range in tone from the real yellow browns to a chocolate brown, instead of the red or blue browns.
              paper has been with us) and some of the photos have turned brown with age. And I don't know any way to tell the difference one way or the other with out referring a sample to a chemist for
              I remember in a photo class in college (way too long ago) we did the bleaching and retoning... I've forgotten what chemicals we used, but were getting some purples, greens, etc... actually kind of a fun process.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Leah
                The only thing to add to Roger's masterful summary is that, from a practical point of view, it is almost always easier to restore a photograph as "pure" black and white and then add a sepia tone in afterwards than to try to maintain the original tone throughout the restoration.
                As Leah said, it is often much better to take the colour out and work in black and white.

                An easy method that I use to recolour the picture is to create a new 'solid colour' adjustment layer. Pick a colour, for Sepia I go for a reasonably rich and fairly light brown. Set theblending mode to 'colour' and reduce the opacity to whatever looks good. If you don't like the colour just use Hue/saturation command to change it. Oh yep.. you have to change the mode to RGB if you weren't in it already.

                I really like the sepia look, it can warm a picture up instantly and I find people usually prefer it if you show them the B&W and the sepia side by side.

                This is my first post.. so hello to everyone. It's a really great site.

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                • #9
                  Thank you all for the History lesson, I feel smarter now haha!! Welcome to this amazing forum Proxy, I have only been here a couple of weeks and now I am asking for a raise .... only kidding .. but I have learned so much here in a short amount of time!!

                  That was my next question, Proxy, I agree with Leah about the BW. But to restore the sepia I was using "Variations" under Image>adjustments. Did not get the effect I wanted though. Thanks for the tip and thank all of you for your Input !!!

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                  • #10
                    We also have a tutorial on Luminosity Masks and Sepia Toning by Outcast125, which I personally feel gives the best sepia results. Or there is probably an appropriate Duotone preset available.

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                    • #11
                      How to Pronounce?

                      Now that we know that it is a deliberate effect used on photos, and can be caused by aging. Can someone settle the debate I have with my mother. She says it is pronounced with a short e like in septic, I always thought it was a long e.

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                      • #12
                        SEE pea awh = SEPIA

                        BTW, if you do it in the wet dark room, don't get it on you or your clothes. The clothes will have permanent coffee stains as will your skin. If some one in the 50s or even 60s had thought about this MANTAN would never have been invented.

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