This is my second post on the topic of toning black-and-white photographs. In the first post, I introduced the concept of toning black-and-white photographs and provided some examples. Toning a photograph in the print stage can alter the mood. Of course, selecting the right toner is the artist’s preference; nonetheless, it should be chosen carefully.
In this post, I want to focus on the subject of the photograph and how toning can alter the mood. But first, one should ask, “Does the color of this toning complement the subject matter?” Does it, for example, make sense to apply a sepia tone to a photograph of some drunken idiot on a cell phone in a bar? Or should sepia be reserved for something a bit more traditional? Something which has a more vintage feel?
I like to categorize toning by the colors they provide. Historically, the resultant color wasn’t planned, but rather a manifestation of the archival process. In other words, no one set out to create a warmer tone by applying a dark-brown-gray color (sepia). Instead, they chose chemicals to convert the metallic silver in the print to a sulfide compound, which is much more resistant to the effects of environmental pollutants such as atmospheric sulfur compounds. The conversion to the sulfide compound resulted in a sepia tone. However, with today’s technology we can choose our toning based on our color preference not our archival needs.
My first category include the browns and reds — those that invoke a subtle, warm feeling. The ones I would place in this category would be sepia, coffee, and copper. My preference is to apply these tones to photographs with an Earthy feel such as brick, metal, rock, and aging architecture. In particular, I think metals such as black painted iron, rusting metal, and the likes lend itself well to such toning.
The second category includes the cooler ones in the blueish to silver range. These might include blue, selenium, and cyanotype. I find it interesting that cyanotype has its roots in engineering — the blueprint. In the typical procedure to create a blueprint, equal volumes of an 8.1% solution of potassium ferricyanide and a 20% solution of ferric ammonium citrate are mixed. Upon exposure to ultraviolet light (such as that in sunlight), the iron in the unexposed areas will reduce, turning the paper a steel-grey-blue color.
I tend to apply cooler tones to sunsets, water, and metals such as chrome, brushed and polished steel. I sometimes apply these tones to photographs of sculptures or white marble structures.
Lastly, I would group the yellowish ones such as ambrotype. In my opinion, these tones suit subjects such as sunrises, floral scenes, and some portraits. Portraits of fair-skinned and blonde-haired people tend to look nice with these tones. Conversely, brunettes might look better with the darker tones such as sepia.
Again, these are NOT rules but rather my personal preference and taste. There is no such thing as the “right” toning.
NOTE: Please don’t steal my work — see my copyright notice below. If you’re a charitable organization or an educational institution, and you’d like to use any of my images, send me a message. But please, ask me first. Thank you. If you do decide to purchase a print, all purchases will benefit the Friends of the Wounded Veterans.