Sepia toning in photography became popular in the 1920s not only for its aesthetic qualities, but because the chemicals used prevented photographs from fading and prolonged the image’s life.

These days, we associate sepia toning with nostalgia and can easily replicate the soft brown vintage look in the digital darkroom with LuminarAI — no chemicals required.

As I was searching through my archives, I came across this photograph of my husband playing his guitar. I love this photograph for many reasons, but from an artistic standpoint, the colors — especially the blue of his sleeve — distract from the story.

I initially converted it to black and white, but in doing so, it lost some of the inherent warmth in the skin tones and wood of the guitar. To compensate, I chose to add a slight sepia tone to bring back some of the warmth and create a timeless vintage look.

Close up of hands playing a guitar before Luminar AI Sepia Toning

1. Convert to black and white

Start by opening a photograph in LuminarAI and clicking on the Edit tab. Select the Black & White tool in the Essentials section, and click the button to Convert to B&W.

Luminar AI Black & White Tool Screenshot

2. Adjust contrast with Color Luminance

In the Black & White tool, select the Luminance tab. Each color slider corresponds to a range of colors from your original photo and can be used to lighten and darken specific areas (i.e. the Blue slider will lighten or darken the blue sleeve on his arm). Use these sliders to adjust the overall tones and contrast of your black and white conversion.

Luminar AI Black and White Tool Luminance Settings Screenshot

3. Add warmth with Sepia Toning

Scroll down to the Creative tools and select Toning. Choose the Highlights tab and increase the saturation slider, then move the Hue slider along the spectrum to find a warm reddish-brown tone that compliments your photograph.

In the Balance section, you can choose to weigh the saturation to your Highlights or Shadows. For this photo, I increased the balance to more heavily affect the highlight and mid-tone areas of my photograph.

Once you achieve the color toning desired, you can adjust the Amount slider to increase or decrease the effect.

Luminar AI Toning Tool Screenshot with Sepia adjustment

Sepia Toning turned out to be a beautiful choice for this photograph. By converting it to monochrome, I eliminated the color distractions, and by adding in the reddish-brown sepia toning, I created a timeless, vintage look to preserve this special moment.