Looking back at historical records, toning a photo chemically, had its benefits in both aesthetics and permanence of the print.

Toning photos to sepia or golden tints could have been thought as quaint or a trend. In fact there were some far more definitive reasons for doing so. Several methods of toning came about through the early photographic years but what was the actual process of tinting for?

In this fascinating exert from “Early Works in Photography” by W. ETHELBERT HENRY, C.E. he talk about the process and importance of toning.

The principle of the so-called u toning – “action may be simply described thus: After all the free nitrate of silver has been removed from the print (as it comes from the printing frame), by washing in several changes of water, it is then treated with a weak alkaline solution of gold chloride. In its alkaline state (and this is why an alkali should always be present in a toning bath) the gold present in solution is attracted by the metallic silver present in the print (which forms the picture) and becomes deposited upon it in a finely divided metallic state. These fine particles of gold, if collected as a precipitate, would be found to exist as a beautiful purple powder,  resembling that known to painters as u purple of cassius.”

The longer a print is immersed in such a toning bath, the deposition of gold of course becomes heavier, and causes a deepening of the tone until the print changes from red, or reddish brown, to a purple brown, then to purple, and finally to a blue black. The colour of the resultant photogram there- fore depends, to a great extent, upon the length of immersion in the gold toning bath, and it will be readily inferred that the permanence of the print will be much improved by receiving a deposit of gold, which is so little affected by atmospheric influences as compared with silver.

Toning, therefore, answers a two-fold purpose : it improves the colour of the silver print and increases its permanence. The action of the gold bath also exerts a pleasing influence upon the white parts of the print, changing the slight yellowish deposit of silver into almost invisible pale violet or purple, thus enhancing the brilliance of the high lights.


Today I want to talk about modern digital techniques to tone a photo to more your own, individual colour tone style.

Digital toning does nothing to preserve the print. Print life is governed today by the correct choice of archive photo paper. Toning is purely for aesthetics. Digital toning means we can choose more or less any tone we wish and colour the dark, mid-range and highlights separately.

Methods using Photoshop

Tinting or Toning a photo with gradient map

Tinting or Toning a photo with gradient map


  • Tone with a Gradient Map – see “default Photoshop actions” in your actions pallet and select and play the Photoshop action “gradient maps”. Have fun here lost to experiment with. Gradient maps affect the tones in the photos dark to light. these tones are affected by a colour map. Choose a blend of colours!
  • Tone with several Overlay layers” – choose your own colours, make new layers and set overlay mode to “colour” and adjust highlights and dark tones as you wish.
  • Tone with a Photo filter – go to image/adjustsments/photofilter and select and experiment.
  • Tone with Default Photoshop Action – “sepia toning layer” in your actions pallet. Adjust the slider where needed.

For further information with step by step of these processes go to my post on 3 ways to sepia tint a photo, the principals are the same but you choose different colours.

Using these techniques you can develop your own colour tint or colour toned style to add to your restored old photos.

Dgitally Toning a black and white photo
Article Name
Dgitally Toning a black and white photo
This article explains why we tint a photo and how to do it digitally. Digital toning does nothing to preserve the print. Print life is governed today by the correct choice of archive photo paper. Toning is purely for aesthetics.
Neil Rhodes