Photoshop Sepia Tutorial: Create Antique-Looking Photos in 10 Minutes

Ever wonder how to add cool color effects to your pictures in Photoshop? We won’t go over all the techniques, but we will touch on one of my favorites: sepia. Even if the original picture was taken in black and white, you’ll be able to change it to sepia in Photoshop in just a few easy steps. Beginner? Photoshop 101 online.

What’s Sepia?

Sepia is a reddish-brown tint or coloring that can be applied to photos before taking the picture by selecting it on your camera, or after the picture is taken in an image editing program like Photoshop. Actually, sepia is Greek for cuttlefish which is a squid relative. The cuttlefish releases a pigment from its ink sac that has this reddish-brown tint, hence, sepia. Reddish-brown cuttlefish ink may not sound that appealing, but sepia can give your image an antique-y feeling which is really awesome.

Let’s get to it.

Step 1

First, you need to select a photo you would like to transform. Once you have opened Photoshop, go to File–>Open and select your photo.

Step 2 (For color image)

With your original color image open, you now need to turn it to a black and white image so the sepia coloring can be applied. To do this, you need to desaturate it. Select Image–>Adjustments–>Desaturate as is shown in the example below. You will see that your color photo is now in black and white.

*Note: make sure if you want to keep your original image without any changes to it you will need to save this image Save As. If you click Save the black and white photo will replace the original. Chances are, you don’t want that to happen!

Your image should now look something like this:

Step 2 (For B&W image)

If your image started off as a black and white then you won’t need to desaturate it (obviously), but you do need to adjust the mode to RGB. Go to Image–>Mode–>RGB.

Now that you have your photo set up right, there are two ways to achieve your sepia goal. To learn more Photoshop fundamentals take this online course.

First Method

Step 1

With your photo desaturated, it’s time to apply a filter that Photoshop has already built in. You’ll need to go to your layers palette and create a new adjustment layer. The button looks kind of like a yin-yang.

When you click this button you will see a list of options appear. You want to click on Photo Filter.

Step 2

On your layer palette you’ll now see some options and a box with a color in it (mine was orange). Your image will also have changed a little bit. That’s okay. You need to click on the drop-down list that says Filter. This will give you a list of options, one of which will be sepia.

             

Step 3

After selecting the Sepia filter, your photo will gain a reddish-brownish hue. It may not be as drastic as you were hoping for, and that’s okay! We can fix it. Notice the density slider bar on your layers palette. Go ahead and play around with it by sliding it left or right. This will change the concentration of sepia applied to your photo.

     

Original                                                                         Sepia

So there you go! Now you have a sepia image created with the Photoshop sepia filter. If you want more control over your photo the next method will suit you best.

Second Method

Step 1

Start off with your original photo. Instead of desaturating the photo, you need to turn it to grayscale. Go to Image–>Mode–>Grayscale. You will be asked if you want to discard the color information. Select Discard. Your photo will turn black and white.

Step 2

Assuming your photo is in black and white now, go back to Image–>Mode and select duotone. A prompt box will appear that shows a black box. You need to click on the black box and a color selector screen will appear. Enter the color code EB8B23. Your photo will turn an alarming color, but don’t worry. Where the text says “black” next to the color box you can change it to Sepia 1, or whatever you want to call it. Click OK.

Step 4

Again, go to Image–>Mode–>Duotone. The same box will pop up with the orange color square. There is a drop down box next to the word Type. Select Duotone from this list.  Now click on the Ink 2 box below the orange box. When the color selector pops up type the color code 000000. Click OK.

Step 5

You see that the horrendous orange color has disappeared and you are left with a sepia-looking image. You’ll also notice it has a much more natural coloring than the first step we took using the photo filter. We are going to now play around with the saturation and hues to customize your photo to your liking.

Go to Image–>Mode–>RGB. With RGB selected, go to Image–>Adjustment–>Hue/Saturation. You should now see a box that looks like the image below.

Step 6

Now drag the saturation slider to -40% for testers. Check your image out and continue to play around with these hues until you find exactly what you’re looking for. Once you’re finished, click Save!

Without adjusting saturation                                         Saturation -40%

Sepia may look different in your mind, and if so, feel free to continue tweaking the settings, saturation, duotone colors (but leave the black layer!). Photoshop gives its users infinite customization capabilities so feel free to explore them. If you want to learn more about the tools in Photoshop see the Photoshop Quickstart tutorial.