Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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We already know that the black and white filters can be used to see geometric layouts of a certain scene, without showing or emphasizing the colors. (i.e. where the colors are not important)

My question is is there a specific scenario where we should use sepia effect? And what is the significance of this effect to a photo?

Note: Wikipedia only gives me this piece of detail ...give a black-and-white photographic print a warmer tone and to enhance its archival qualities...

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Actual sepia toning of silver/gelatin prints works by replacing some or all of the silver with a substance that doesn't react as readily to oxygen (tarnish), so it made prints last longer. It also lends a warmer (browner/yellower) tone to the image, which can be very pleasing for some subjects (particularly people, where a stark black-and-white or a colder/bluer toned print is more "mechanical" and less organic).

As an effect on a digital photograph, it's entirely an aesthetic choice. It makes no difference (usually) to the longevity of the print. If it looks right, it is right. If it looks wrong, it is wrong. It's entirely subjective, but it's usually a better idea to go slightly warm (not necessarily all the way to sepia) with, say, a portrait than to go cold or to make a pure black-and-white. It just seems more "alive" to most people, but, again, that's subjective.

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I agree with the idea that if your work is good sepia will only add a diferente flavour to it, and if it's not as good as you wanted or expected to be, sepia tones won't change the final result.

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Can you describe in a bit more depth what the different flavor would be, and why and when one might want that? –  mattdm Dec 28 '12 at 14:23

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