Digital Imitating Darkroom (Toning)

I have been given a new assignment at college, my new small assignment focuses on both darkroom and digital techniques. For the next ‘x’ amount of posts I will concentrate on a different technique that I have completed using digital images, that have been edited to mimic processes and techniques used within the darkroom.

Some of these processes in my opinion do not work, I will explain why I feel that they didn’t work and are no substitute for the real thing.

I will then go on and post processes that I have completed within the darkroom giving an insight into the world of analogue.

As everything began moving into the digital era it is no surprise that photography followed suit. I was very reluctant to swap my 35mm SLR for a digital version. I loved the rich tones and detail that was visible within the images that I produced and I didn’t like how digital images seemed to lack these properties. However as technology quickly evolved and the quality evolved with it so did I, and in 2007 I jumped ship and joined the rest of the world as they got swallowed up by the marvel that is instant images. Not to say I’ve kept my analogue camera which I still use today and has been joined by many other analogue cameras.

Grab yourself a hot beverage peeps, you’re in for the long haul and it’s going to get exciting!

The first process I will discuss is toning.


The history of toning dates back to around the 1880’s when sepia was first produced. Taken from one of the little cretins below, a cuttlefish, known as the Sepia officinalis or the common cuttlefish. They can be found around the English channel among other places.

Toners were used in analogue photography on images printed on paper. By taking a traditional black and white print they were dipped into chemicals to change the colour which was permanent. There were many reasons for using toner, such as adding an artistic aesthetic to an image, creating atmosphere by changing the appearance of a photograph or prolonging its life span. At the time many photographers were trying to mimic paintings and using such processes would have reinforced this. Another reason was to prolong the life of an image, tests carried out showed that some toners can reduce the effect of pollutants on an image and when you think about it, we can still view images today that were produced hundreds of years ago.

Toners come in a variety of colours and work by replacing the metallic silver which is present in the emulsion within the paper. They can increase or decrease the shades and contrasts within an image depending on the tone used and some can make the image unstable and actually decrease its life span.

There are different types of toning, these are:

Selenium – This converts the silver to silver selenide and gives a red/brown tone, if using a weak solution and a purple/brown tone when used with a strong solution. Many of the prints we see today in museums have gone through the selenium toning process. Ansel Adams used this process to tone his landscape images.

Sepia – One of the more common forms of toning and was used to prolong the image life. It gives a light brown effect common with old, vintage images.

Metallic Replacement Toning – These replace the metallic silver with a ferrocyanide salt. Platinum and gold will protect the image and prolong life whereas, Iron (blue) and Copper (red) can reduce image life.

However you don’t need a darkroom, film or analogue camera to tone your images in today’s modern world, the process can be carried out by adding filters either on to your camera or in post-production. You can even tone your images using apps on a mobile phone. There are many reasons for using a toning technique on images we produce today, from artistic flare to visual communication and they can also be used as part of a final process like the one I used within my Sweet Winterland series.

The following images have been produced using a digital camera and edited using digital techniques to imitate darkroom processes.

Copper Toning

Mimicking the copper toning used within the darkroom you can see that it adds a red tone to the images. I think the copper tones work well with the particular images I have chosen, being landscapes they are more forgiving when changing the colours, adding to the atmosphere and drama of the scene. The techniques that I have used in camera, and at the time of shooting has created a blur which produces a dream like effect. By adding this simple copper tone in Photoshop it has dated the image and softened what could be considered a harsh black and white contrast to give an overall warmer feel to the images. It would look more effective when printed on specialist paper using good quality printer inks.

Blue Toning

Using the same technique as the copper toning but this time changing the copper for an iron blue. You can see that the aesthetic of the images completely changes from a warm and dreamy scene to cold and dramatic series giving the viewer a different message.

Dual Toning

Dual toning, like the name suggests is a process of adding two different colours or tones to an image. The process is used a lot within fine art, black and white, book and poster printing where one or more mid-tone inks are used along side black. It is a simple technique and by changing each tonal range you can create images that contain complementary or contrasting colours. However for my particular examples I don’t think the technique adds anything to the images, in fact it takes away the natural beauty of the image and changes it from real to surreal and not in a good way. The shadows are made up of deep blues and the highlights contains pale pinks, something we are not used to seeing within landscape photography. However I am sure that these tones would reinforce an idea or communicate a message given the right image.

Selenium Toning

Using this process on the images I have chosen above has given them a more authentic, dated feel to that of the copper toning. It works well with these images because of the nature of the subjects, capturing time from another era in affect. You can see that the browns present within the image contain a very slight purplish tone, a characteristic of selenium toning. This process would work with with fine art prints.



Tritone is a process of adding three tones to an image. For the above images I kept the selenium tones and added a further brown tone to created the earthy look I have achieved above. Again it has added a dated feel to the images, with one on the far right working the best because of the textures present in the skull and soil. It can be used with any tones and is just a case of experimenting until you achieve the desired look.

Tones work well when used in the digital process, having tried them both within the darkroom and digitally overall I actually prefer the results achieved in Photoshop. I think you have a wider range of tonal colours to use in Photoshop and you know that the results achieved on one image can be replicated exactly the same on to another. You don’t need to worry about the health and safety aspects that come with using darkroom toners and their won’t be any chance of ruining your image if the toner hasn’t been mixed correctly or hasn’t achieved the results expected. You still have the option to print on specialist papers and if it doesn’t work for one image you can just delete it and try it on another.


  1. I think I’ve learnt more reading this than I did in class! (Sorry Emma and Jo !) Excellent work my lovely. It reads both very well and with honesty too but the most important thing is that you don’t bombard the reader with things they won’t understand – so called “geek speak”. I love your opening too! Well done sweetie! xx


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