I’m going off an artistic high, learning to tone an analogue image. Of course, it’s easy in the digital world. With one click in Photoshop, you can switch the look of your image into black and white or sepia. But going back to some old school techniques was thrilling and really made me appreciate the analogue process even more.
We spent an evening combining fresh chemicals in the process lab, filling the correct amount of liquids in graduate cylinders. Then off we went!
We were assigned to make 6 copies of the same image: 1) one landscape, 2) one still life, and 3) one portrait. We toned five different ways: selenium, sepia, copper, brilliant blue, and halo-chrome.
Why Is Toning an Analogue Image So Great?
How could toning strengthen your print? I assumed it would reduce the stability of the silver gelatin print by changing its chemical balance. But according to my professor, toning an analogue image actually does two things:
1. It adds more contrast to your image, making it appear more vibrant.
Because of the changes in the color of your print, it shifts the D Max of your print. D Max refers to the “densest value a film is capable of d = density and Max = maximum. For a negative film that will be the most exposed and developed area in the film.” You can think of D Max in terms of the shadow areas of your print. So if your print is a little flat, toning your print will pull the contrast levels more, adding more depth to your print.
2. It protects your print.
Toning a print becomes more stable because it attaches to the silver on your black and white silver gelatin print. In fact, many photographers will tone their images in selenium for archival purposes.
Because we were toning five different ways, we needed to keep an original for comparison.
According to the Kodak Rapid package, selenium gives off a reddish-brown hue on some paper. But I only left my prints for two minutes (instead of 10), so the change was very minimal.
When I think of sepia, I think of old wild, wild, west photos. Sepia adds a yellowish-brown hue to your print.
Copper, of course, gives a nice reddish-brown hue. The longer you leave your print in copper, then the blackest part of your image will turn into a deeper copper-reddish hue.
True to its name, this color adds a lovely shade of blue, depending on how many seconds you leave it the chemical. You can see that the landscape and still life images have a more saturated blue hue compared to the portrait of Linus. (I believe I only left the portrait in the chemical for five seconds.)
Halo-chrome changes a black and white print into a purely metallic silver print. Think of those wet collodion plating processes from the 1850s. Creating a halo-chrome silver toned print required a two-step process: 1) dipping your print in a bleach bath, then 2) submerging the print in a batch of mixed halo-chrome/activator chemicals right before. (For a sample of instructions to make halo-chrome toner chemicals, see here.)
You can also check out my first Instagram video on how halocrhrome works!
After it was all said and done, I was surprised how well halo-chrome turned out. Now if I could decide on which two prints to mount for my assignment. Hmm….
Do you have a favorite image?
From my hometown to yours,