Create an Antique Sepia Effect in Photoshop Elements

Sepia Tone Phonograph
Yuri Arcurs/Getty Images

Sepia is a reddish brown color that originally came from turn-of-the-century photographs being treated with sepia ink. That is, ink extracted from a cuttlefish. As with so many things, old is new again and there is a fascination with creating sepia images with more modern cameras. Digital makes that easy. Programs like Photoshop Elements allow a photographer to quickly create a convincing sepia effect that harkens back to much older photos.

Creating a Sepia Effect

Sepia Tint Before and After photo

Liz Masoner

Bear in mind that there are many ways to achieve a sepia effect. This tutorial shows you the simplest method and then shows you how to further age the photo if desired. There is a guided sepia effect in several Photoshop Elements versions but quite honestly it is super simple to do on your own and doing it this way gives you more control over the result.

Note that this tutorial is written using Photoshop Elements 10 but should work in almost any version (or another program).

Add the Sepia Tone

Screenshot of add the Sepia Tone

Liz Masoner

Open the photo you wish to use and then open the Adjust Hue/Saturation menu. You can do this with the keyboard shortcuts (Mac: Command-U PC: Control-U) or by going through menu options: Enhance - Adjust Color - Adjust Hue/Saturation.

When the Hue/Saturation menu opens, click the box beside Colorize. Now move the Hue slider to around 31. This value will vary a bit depending on your personal preference but keep it close. Remember that there was variation in the original sepia method based on a number of factors like how much ink was used and now, the amount of weathering a photo suffered over the years. Just keep it in the reddish-brown ranges. Now use the Saturation slider and reduce the strength of the color. Again, around 31 is a good rule of thumb but it will vary a bit based on personal preference and your original photo's exposure. You can further adjust the Lightness slider if you like.

That's it, you're done with the sepia effect. Super-easy sepia toning. Now, we're going to continue on to age the photo to strengthen the antique feel.

Adding Noise

Screenshot of adding noise on photoshop elements

Liz Masoner

Go to the top menu bars and follow Filter - Noise - Add Noise. When the Add Noise menu opens you'll see it is very simple in choices offered. Now, if you look at the illustration above you'll see two copies of the add noise dialog open. If you use the guided sepia effect it defaults to the version of noise on the right. It adds color noise into your sepia photo. This ruins the effect in my opinion. You just got rid of other tones; you don't want to put them back. So, click the Monochromatic at the bottom of the dialog (where the arrow on the left-hand example is pointing). This makes sure you just have greyscale noise added to better match the sepia effect. The Uniform and Gaussian affect the pattern of the noise and is a personal preference. Try both and see which you prefer. Then use the Amount slider to control the amount of noise added. For most photos, you'll want a small amount (around 5 percent).

Adding a Vignette

Adding a Vignette on photoshop elements

Liz Masoner

The vignette wasn't always an artistic choice, it was just something that happened because of the cameras of the time. Basically, all lenses are round so they project a round image onto your film/sensor. The sensor/film is actually smaller than the full projected image. If the projected image is close to the size of the film/sensor you begin to see the loss of light at the edge of the circular image. This method of vignetting will create this more organic style of vignette rather than the hard shapes often added to images today.

Start by opening the Filter menu and selecting Correct Camera Distortion. Instead of correcting a lens error, we're going to basically add one back in. With the Camera Distortion menu open, go do the Vignette section and use the Amount and Midpoint sliders to darken the edges of the photo. Remember, this is not going to look like a hard oval, this is a more natural style of vignette that will add an antique feel to the photo.

Final Image of Antique Sepia Photo

Final Image of Antique Sepia Photo

Liz Masoner

That's it. You've sepia-toned and aged your photo. As mentioned before, there are a lot of ways to do this but this is the simplest. Another simple change that makes a slightly different result is to begin by removing the color from the photo/converting to black and white. This adds some additional tonal control if you have a photo with difficult lighting.