Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sepia Scenes #11: Sepia Tutorial Part 2 - Shooting in Monochrome

Part 1 of this series focused on how I convert color images to sepia. But that's not the only way of getting a sepia toned image. Most digital cameras have monochrome modes, and one of the options in that mode is frequently toning. My Canon 30D offers five toning options: "None", "Sepia", "Blue", "Purple" and "Green". I've never used the last two, and haven't used the "Blue" option frequently (though it does do a passable job of imitating the old Cyanotype process photos). Your camera may feature all, some, or none of these. But it's worth looking to see if you have this option available. Your owner's manual may call it something else, but Canon opted for the term "Picture Styles" for this option on the menu for the 30D. (I believe its predecessor, the 20D, called these same features "Parameters", which is nice and techie-sounding, but not intuitive.)

So why shoot in sepia -- or monochrome at all -- when conversion is so simple? Well, other than the obvious advantage of being able to see what you got immediately, you will probably notice a difference in tonal range and contrast. And shooting in monochrome to begin with -- as we'll see in a few moments -- doesn't have to be mutually exclusive with color enhancement (or more accurately, tonal enhancement) in post processing. And in some of these examples I actually found the color conversion to be more appealing because of the color balancing I did before converting to monochrome. But the purpose of this exercise isn't to endorse a specific method, it's simply an experiment to see what the differences are between shots taken in color (or monochrome) and converted and those shot in sepia to begin with.

So first a little background information on setup. My camera allows me to set up to three User Defined Styles based on one of the preset styles and for this trip I set up all three. The default monochrome setup is defined as:

  • sharpness: +0

  • contrast: +0

  • filter: none

  • toning: none

I find this default to be a little "timid" for my taste, so the first User Defined Style I set up added +1 to sharpness, +2 to contrast, with a red filter effect and no toning. That provided the basis for the other two styles which added toning effects (sepia in User Defined 2 and blue in User Defined 3). So my new sepia setting read like this:

  • sharpness: +1

  • contrast: +2

  • filter: red

  • toning: sepia*
(*I did use the blue tone setup on this trip, but that's outside the scope of this article. Stick around and you may see some of those shots in other posts.)

With my new styles defined, I loaded up the camera and the Tonka Unit and set out to take some photos in downtown Raleigh where I figured there would be at least a few sepia-appropriate subjects available.

The methods for the first three sets are basically the same, but I thought it was interesting to use more than one subject to allow for varying light conditions. In each case, I shot the same scene in color and sepia and then converted the color shot for comparison. I used my "standard" method for converting all of the color images (which is detailed at great length in Part 1 of this series) with one exception. Normally I would have adjusted brightness and contrast on the greyscale image before applying the toning, but that step isn't consistent across all images so I skipped it for this experiment.

Governor's Mansion, Shot in Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

Governor's Mansion, Converted from Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
Governor's Mansion, Shot in Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

In this example, I like the camera's version better than the conversion. Despite the heavy red shift I introduced during the color balancing phase, the image shot using the sepia mode has a better (to my eye) tonal range and better contrast than the conversion. This is more or less what I would have expected to happen. But if you're a fan of the "redder" toning, the conversion may look better to you. The out of the camera version is noticeably more monochromatic, which may be why I prefer it.

Update: I didn't know it when I wrote this, but it turns out that one of our own is responsible for the magnificent red bows on the Governor's Mansion. Raleigh Blogger Kenju was involved in decorating the Executive Mansion (it's official name) for the holidays, and these red bows one of her contributions to the seasonal decor. Stop by and admire, on her blog "Imagine".

House on Blount St, Shot in Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

House on Blount St, Converted from Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
House on Blount St, Shot in Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

There's much less difference in the tonality in these two shots, but I still think the camera offered better contrast than the converted image. In a real life situation, I probably would have adjusted brightness and contrast on the conversion before and/or after toning it and it may have ended up looking almost exactly like the out of the camera version. But in the interest of keeping the number of variables to a minimum, I left it as it was. In this case, I'd be hard pressed to choose between these two, probably becase there isn't a lot of background to gauge tonal range and contrast. The sky was overcast at the time, and there isn't any foliage in the shot to really stand out. The features of the house itself are rendered respectably by both variants.

Oakwood Cemetery Gate, Shot in Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

Oakwood Cemetery Gate, Converted from Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
Oakwood Cemetery Gate, Shot in Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

Here again I find the camera's version more appealing, and for the same reason as in the first set. Notice the "greens" (in the wreaths on the gate itself and the sbhrubs outside) and how much more dramatic they are in the out of the camera version. This is probably more a product of the red filter effect than the toning, and it's this effect I'm trying to replicate when I tune the reds up while color balancing the original (color) shot. But having the red filter applied when the shot is taken is different from trying to add it in post production.

In this case the subject is backlit, and that may be the reason I prefer the warmer toned conversion shot. In this case, the contrast from the out of the camera version is still more pronounced, but the overall image is a bit too "cool". From the full color image we can see that the side of the house was in shade and the camera didn't correct for this even though the white balance setting for all of these shots was the "Cloudy" preset. For some applications the mood of the cooler shot from the camera might be preferable, but in a very general way I like the conversion better.

House on Blount St, Shot in Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

House on Blount St, Converted from Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
House on Blount St, Shot in Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

In this case I wasn't especially keen on the conversion or the sepia image, so I decided to try applying the toning to the black & white version I'd taken. I wasn't sure this would even be possible since the original shot was greyscale, but Photoshop dutifully applied the effect and that version turned out to be my favorite of this set.

Peace College, Shot in Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

Peace College, Converted from Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
Peace College, Shot in Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
Peace College, Shot in Black & White
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
Peace College, Converted from Black & White
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

I would have probably tried the conversion from greyscale on this shot as well, but I didn't take a greyscale shot of this house. So instead, I took the image I shot in sepia and applied the toning filter I'd used for all of the other conversions. This set offers a view of the same toning applied to a desaturated color image and an image originally shot in sepia. And of all of them, the sepia-to-sepia conversion is probably my favorite. The image originally shot in sepia has very little toning to it, but since the image is already biased toward sepia rendering, applying the toning effect in Photoshop enhanced it enough to bring out the warm tones the camera didn't apply. In fact, this variant borders on being too warm, but it has the contrast advantages that all of the out of the camera versions have had so far.

House on Blount St, Shot in Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

House on Blount St, Converted from Color
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
House on Blount St, Shot in Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)
House on Blount St, Converted from Sepia
(Click to enlarge in new tab/window)

As I said at the outset, I have my preferences which may or may not be the same as yours. But having the option of creating the toned image when it's captured is one more tool available to get the image that appeals to you the most. And it's only when you can compare them side by side that you know for sure you got the shot you wanted.

Next Time: To Bronze or Not To Bronze

Sepia Scenes - Brought to you by Mary the Teach

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kenju said...

Off topic, but:

GUESS WHO made all those red bows on the Governor's Mansion?

Yes, yours truly!

Robin said...

Lots of good stuff here! For the most part I agreed with your preferences, the sepia (camera) shots seemed to have more depth and contrast. I'd almost be tempted to go with those and then add the warmth back in if needed in post processing, but the reality of it is that I'm lazy and often just shoot, picking out my sepia shots hours or even days later LOL. Still, it's something to keep in mind and play around with.

Thanks for another fascinating tutorial, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and above all peaceful new year.

Kahshe Cottager said...

What a comprehensive tutorial! I have been playing with my camera's sepia setting as well although this week I did 'bronze' my photos!

Happy New Year!

Daryl said...

Good stuff, excellent explainin' ...

Happy New Year .. nice to call you friend.


SandyCarlson said...

Thanks for the insight. I have this setting but haven't used it much. Your compare/contrast examples help me see the difference. I like the effect very much. Thanks.

Doctor Err said...

yeah. way flatter.
is it that way for black and white, too?

kayleen said...

Thank you for this series of articles. I've learned a lot. Just figured out that my camera has a sepia setting. I knew it could do b/w. Looks like I will be having some fun experimenting in the new year!

Have a wonderful 2009.

Cherie said...

Great stuff!

BTW, were you at Oakwood yesterday? I was there fulfilling some Find a Grave requests and nearly ran over a guy with a much better camera than mine ;)

kenju said...

AW, thanks, Mojo!! how nice to be linked here. And thanks for the kind comments about my girth - or the lack thereof. I maintain that as I was wearing black, your eyes tricked you into believing I was svelte!

Leora said...

I see how the range of values are greater with the shots with the camera. I'll have to experiment.

Love all that great architecture. I studied American Architecture for a while in college. I especially love those rounded turrets.

Lex Valentine said...

OMG The cemetery gate is gorgeous! I love your work, Mojo. You know I do. Happy New Year! MUAH!

Anonymous said...

A great tutorial of sepia edits :)

Mojo, here's wishing you a great 2009 ahead!! :)

Annie said...

Interesting how the created sepia was always by far (IMHO) the best of the two sepias. I wonder how a shot in sepia and then converted to sepia would look. Happy New Year, Jazz.

Kimmie said...

I Love the house on Blount Street the very best, but they are all magnificent!

Happy New Year My Dear Friend!

Kimmie said...

It would help to mention my favoirite is the third house down on Blount Street! ;-)

Mona said...

although The technicalities fly over my head ( my brother in law would understand though, he is a professor of Photography) the comparative study of the pictures is very interesting!

Happy New Year To James & Family!

Anonymous said...

I wanted to thank you so much for these tutorials. I followed the directions in part 1 and there certainly is a difference, plus I got to learn alittle more about PSE which scares me. Thank you so much.

You had posted a comment about my frog post and true frogs in NC. According to FrogWatch, there are 30 species of frogs and toads.

Frogs and Toads of NC

MyMaracas said...

Wow, you're really getting into this, aren't you? Thanks so much for sharing your expertise. There is so much here to explore.

lisaschaos said...

Looks like you have been very busy!

Julie said...

Another wonderful shot and I learned a good deal. I like the shots shot in sepia, have to try that. Great shots by the way

maryt/theteach said...

Excellent lesson in Sepia, Mojo! Thanks so much! Please forgive me that it's taken me time to get to visit your Sepia post! Happy New Year! :)