Recently in the darkroom – sepia toning

I really enjoy working in the darkroom, but my activities have been intermittent, for no good reason, with long stretches without a trip into the darkroom. I’m hoping to fit in more regular printing sessions in future and thought that I might add some pressure by committing to regular blog posts featuring the results.

So I thought of having a series of posts called “this week in the darkroom” … but that sounds a bit ambitious. “This month in the darkroom” … maybe but not sure. “Recently in the darkroom” …. now that sounds fairly safe. Recently could mean anything couldn’t it ?

Anyway my “recent” activity has been to try sepia toning for the first time. I like the aged feeling that sepia toning gives and sometimes use it on scanned negatives by applying toning in Lightroom. Sepia toning in the darkroom gives a much more organic and unpredictable result which can be, at the same time, both satisfying and frustrating.

Print Scan, Woodland Shelter, RZ67, TMax100,FD10, Ilford MGIV FB, Sepia, 700px
Thornley woods, Mamiya RZ67, Kodak TMax 100

My first attempt was with Fotospeed ST10 non-variable toner. This has the description “odourless” which was, well, completely inaccurate ! The stuff stank like rotten eggs and produced a very negative reaction from other household members. I’d had the toner in the garage a couple of years, but there wasn’t any mention of a “use-by” date in the instructions. The results weren’t brilliant and because of the smell I decided not to persevere with this product.

Print Scan, bike wheel, TMax100, Sepia, 002
Tanfield Railway, Canon FTb, Kodak TMax 100

I switched instead to another Fotospeed variant, ST20 vario sepia toner. I’m pleased to say that this product was indeed odour-free so the experience was much more pleasant.

The other way in which ST20 differs from ST10, is that there is a third bottle, in addition to the bleach+toner bottles of ST10. This is an additive which controls the tone which will be produced; by varying the amount of additive different tones from yellow to deep brown can be produced.

Print Scan, Sepia,003

I added more of the additive during the session to produce some varying tones, as you may be able to tell from these images. However, neither my methods in the darkroom or my record-keeping were sufficiently scientific to link a certain image tone to a particular volume of additive. Still, unpredictability is one think I like about film in general, and darkroom prints in particular.

Print Scan, Sepia,004
Olympus 35ECR, Rollei RPX100 film
Holy Island, Olympus XA



I noticed that the sepia-toned prints showed much more detail in the shadows after toning. The image below was a good example as there was very little detail in the lower third, prior to toning.

Print Scan, Sepia,012
Beamish museum, Yashicamat 124G, Kodak Tri-X
Print Scan, Sepia,009
Beamish Museum, Yashicamat 124G, Kodak Tri-X
Print Scan, Sepia,005
Beamish Museum, Yashicamat 124G, Kodak Tri-X
Print Scan, Sepia,007
Beamish Museum, Yashicamat 124G, Kodak Tri-X
Cafe window, Olympus XA, Kodak TMax 400

It was all good fun and I look forward to doing some more; I also have some selenium toner to try.
By the way, sepia and selenium toning both increase the archival life-span of darkroom prints, which is already much greater than your average ink-jet print.

One comment

  1. I look forward to the selenium experiments; it’s a look a I really like. Whilst I don’t envisage playing with this myself, it’s interesting to see and read about your results. The image at the very top works very well, in particular, I think.



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