Oh Sepia.. Chronicles of my Love/Hate Relationship

Let’s be honest, in today’s my computer can do it all society we have been trying to imitate the style of vintage photographs. It’s funny how our society is never happy with what we currently have but as soon as it can be called retro it’s cool.

Anyhow, I feel that one of the hardest tones to achieve is sepia. Like black and white, there are many ways to accomplish sepia. You can make them as soft or as harsh as you feel necessary. When done right, sepia has a focused-elegance that sometimes black and white can’t even capture. When done right.

With some research I have found some of my favorite ways to sepia-ify your photographs! I used a picture I had taken on my photography trip in downtown San Antonio.

1. Color Balance Adjustment Layer

Color Balance Layer

  • Start by changing your color image into a grayscale or black and white photo ( Image > Adjustments > Desaturate )
  • Select the Color Balance adjustment layer; below are the selections I used:
  • Tone: Midtones; Cyan – Red: +35; Yellow – Blue: -37
  • For the picture I am using, this was my favorite. It’s contrast wasn’t too strong and it seemed to mimic the sepia in old photos best.

2. Black & White Adjustment Layer3BlackWhite-Sepia

  • Again, start with a grayscale image
  • Select the Black & White adjustment layer option
  • Make sure the box next to “Tint” is checked and pick a color close to sepia
  • Adjust opacity to your preference

3. Gradient Map Adjustment Layer1GradientMap-VioletOrange SoftLight-75

  • Begin with a grayscale image
  • Choose the Gradient Map adjustment layer
  • Flip through the different gradient options
  • For my photo, I chose the “violet, orange”
  • Set layer’s opacity to 55% or so and change the blending mode to “Soft Light”
  • After setting the mode on “Soft Light”, play with the % of opacity by increasing it to your preference**
    ** on that note, play with the different blending mode options. It is truly amazing how many different finishes to a photo you can come up with just by adjusting this mode

Honorable Mention: Solid Color Adjustment Layer7SolidColor

  • Start with your grayscale image
  • Apply the Solid Color adjustment layer
  • CMYK: 8, 26, 91, 0 is the color I used
  • Set at 10% opacity or so
  • This one made the list because it is E-A-S-Y. And I feel like the photo looked the most old-timey and almost faded.

Googling “top ways to achieve sepia in photoshop” turned up many, many tutorials. The one I found to be most helpful was this site. I worked through all seven of his ways and picked what I thought worked best in my situation. Great read!

In the end, you have to play with it. This weekend, I plan on creating actions for each of these different options.  Tutorial on that to follow!

Leave a Reply