What Sepia Tones Do For Your Photos

sepia photo of musician Robert Miribal taken by Kim Jew In this final blog discussing different color uses in photography, the focus is on sepia tones. The first blog covered vibrant colors and the previous blog talked about black and white photography.  Sepia tones fall between both categories and also have a unique use. Chances are you’ve seen a photograph that falls into the sepia category, but you may not be aware of the definition. Sepia is a brown pigment that has been used in photography for a very long time. Think of those old photos from the 1940s that have a brown or muted orange hue to them. It was also used for treating photographs for archival use. Since photographs aren’t really printed in brownscale anymore, you may be wondering why it’s still in use. It comes down to personal preference. Here’s what sepia tones affect:
  1. Style: As with other color types, such as vivid colors and black and white, each presents its own style. With sepia, you’re getting a warmer image that also gives you the option of giving your images a vintage feel. Having just a little color doesn’t draw focus away from your subject or subjects. You don’t have to worry about shadow and lighting as much with sepia because they won’t impact the image as much as in a black and white photograph.
  2. Warmth: You may not think about photographs presenting a sense of temperature, but because of the brown shades used in sepia tones, your image presents a feeling of warmth. This is especially useful in family portraits or family photography by showing a happy, close family in a “warm” setting. This warmer image is also popular with wedding photography.
  3. Age: Since sepia tones were originally prominent with old photographs printed on in brownscale, chances are when you see a photograph in this style you immediately think “old.” In today’s styles what’s old is new again—and giving a photograph an aged look is very popular, and also a very unique and fun choice. 
Sepia tones are a lot of fun when taking pictures of groups of people, as they present closeness. They are also fun when taking pictures of people outdoors and posed. It’s probably not the best color tone for candid photography and is best used during the day for maximum effect. As with every aspect of photography, color tone is entirely your choice. Some color tones work better, and have maximum effect, in various situations. When it comes to sepia, it’s best when photographing people, in daylight, and for creating a feeling of warmth. Experiment with the sepia settings on your camera of picture editing programs and see what you come up with. Some of the best results may come from trial and error. Now get out there and start taking amazing shots!


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