Darkroom Experiments with Sepia and Gold Toning


I spent yesterday  toning some pictures with a technique I  came across in The Master Printer’s Workbook by Steve Macleod.  He calls it  “varaiable sepia”  or indirect thiocarbamide toning.  It involves a two bath process of bleach and then toning. The bleach is potassium bromide and potassium ferricyanide and the toner  a combination of sodium hydroxide and thiocarbamide. The toning dilutions are mixed at various ratios to gain different effects; I chose a warm brown. I also consulted the wonderful The Photgraphers Toning Book by Tim Rudman who also has a section on this technique and mentions split toning it with gold toner. It so happened I had a bottle sitting on the shelf and decided to try that as well.

A few weeks back I’d started with some 8×10’s  on various types of paper but mostly Ilford Warmtone both on fibre and resin coated. Recently I have been taking large format macro shots in the garden and had some 12×16 I’d printed on Kentmere Glossy Fibre which I’d also thought to tone . Part of the reason for my interest in this is the photograph as an object, I like to hold something I’ve made and pretend I’m a craftsman. The irony of then photographing the results and putting them online is not entirely rational but LF macro is already a pretty insane act to start with.

The first experiments  were taken with a Leica MP + 35mm ASPH Summicron on AGFA APX100 and processed in home mixed D23. The ones on the left are on Ilford Warmtone Gloss and the two on the  right are Ilford Warmtone Fibre (semi gloss I think). I was getting used to the actions of the bleach and the correct dilutions on these but despite my mishaps I liked the tones I was getting.  I wash the prints first, drop in the bleach until I like the change enough then wash away the yellow  bleach and wash in water for 5 mins. Then  place them in the toner until the desired effect is reached. Then wash again  and dry the fibre prints  slowly to avoid the dreaded curling. 


After enjoying the results of the 35mm shots, I made some pictures in the garden with my Bronica SQA and Wista VX with a view to toning them.  Shooting in the garden is one of the few consistant things I do but even when I go further  a field I seem happy enough  taking a relatively small area and seeking details that interest me. I moved my Omega 5X4 enlarger out of the darkroom and made the  larger attic space light tight so I could raise the head higher and make larger prints. I’m only allowing a 1/4 inch border as on 12×16 paper so the 5X4 negs come into their own. With  the Bronica 6X6 negs  I’m struggling to decide on the size of the actual print, 10×10 seems to waste a lot of 12×16 paper. How come no one makes square paper for these square negs?

With these larger ones I used slighly less thiocarbamide and achieved a browner toner. They did all go into into the gold toner but I didn’t notice any great colour shift. Gold toner does offer archival properties and I think it added to the contrast a touch. The results above are mostly on double weight Kentmere Fibre Glossy ( the 5×4’s) which seems to flatten better than previous papers I’ve tried, this could also be due to my improving technique.  The Bronica SQA are on Ilford Fibre Glossy which seemed more resistant to toning.  I am though plagued by dust or marks on the negative. I’m not sure why at the moment. I’ll just keep on trying to up the quality but my sloppiness seems untameable. I should try and make a virtue of it like Sally Mann’s wet plate work with brush stokes splodges and specks a plenty. I’d also like to leave the confines of the garden now as my 5×4 technique has improved but man its a heavy thing to lug about. I can’t see me moving too far from the car.

In order to get them online I couldn’t scan the larger ones so I photographed them with a Nikon D5000 + 35mm  which introduces a load of extra problems like white balance, reflections, ripples in paper etc but the beauty of the digital world is that “spotting” is so damn easy.  With a view to the future I recently sent the shot below from the  Bronica SQA series to Photobox  online and got a very fine photograph back but it didn’t give me the same thrill. So for now I carry on with this rather beautiful agony of a process in the hope that the more I do it the better I’ll get…history suggests I’m in for a long wait. 


10 Responses to “Darkroom Experiments with Sepia and Gold Toning”

  1. This is great Ian; nice work. I’d like to see some of my negs printed like this. How dangerous is it exactly???
    Also you got link down… last image.

    • yammerman Says:

      Thanks I hope to try some other tones at some point soon but as usual there’s plenty of variables to play with. This particular stuff is odourless which I think must be a good thing. I think as long as you’re careful its as dangerous as cleaning the toilet. I need to speak to you about embebbing images as I may have some gaps in my knowledge.

  2. Ian Whiteley Says:

    I don’t know anything like enough to comment on the process, but the photos are absolutely stunning Ian

    • yammerman Says:

      Thanks Ian the internet does a good job of covering the flaws but I’m hoping in time to make them even better.

  3. I was looking for a technique to have sepia effect. I’ll try to apply this one. Looking forward for the results 🙂 Could you also add the proportions of the chemicals that you used for the sepia tone? That would be really nice.

    • The bleach is 100grams of potassuim ferricyanide and 100grams of potassium bromide in one litre of water. Its then diluted 1:10 or 1:20 in use. The toner is the 2 solutions of sodium hydroxide (A) and thiocarbamide (B) – 100 grams to a litre of water. The mix for warm brown is 30ml A and 70ml B and different ratios produce different results With more A its goes colder and with more B it gets warmer.

      I’d recommend Steve Macleod’s book it has some wonderful images in it.

      Thanks for looking.

      • thanks a lot for the immediate and accurate answer. I am looking forward to apply this effect. I’ll let you know about the results.

      • Hello again 🙂
        I tried sepia affect and achieved the results. You can see them in our blog in Turkish language, but you can still read Mr. Yammerman inside my blog entry 🙂 In the blog entry I am saying: “thanks to Mr. Yammerman’s quick and accurate answer I managed to apply sepia affect”
        but some of the prints had different light circles/halo/corona:

        do you have any opinion about the cause of this?

      • Glad you were able to give it a try. Not sure what your problems might be – maybe something in the original development or the washing. Hope you work it out for next time.

  4. T. J-Toubeaux Says:

    You recommended some really nice books for sepia toning. I’m glad that I found your blog; I’m not familiar with the process. Now I think I’ll go ahead and buy the odorless sepia kit. Thanks for writing this and showing us your results. I like them alot.

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