Sepia, What Is It Good For?

Absolutely nothing? Think again.

Mark Ali
5 min readApr 17, 2021


Simon & Garfunkel once said, “Everything looks worse in black and white.”

The song was “Kodachrome”, a tune that probably every photographer is familiar with. Paul and Art changed “worse” to “better” during their 1981 concert in Central Park. No doubt a nod to their advancing age.

Or they just forgot the words. Hard to tell.

Anyway, the decision to apply a monochrome (“black and white”) treatment to a photo depends on many things. Probably the most important, I think, is the color, textures, and contrast in the image. Some images pop in monochrome, some don’t.

Also important is the mood of the photo — or at least the mood that you’re going for. A great variation on the standard monochrome treatment is “sepia” toning (pronounced “see-pee-ya”, though maybe not in mixed company). An image rendered with sepia toning has more of a reddish-brown coloring, and generally has the feel of an old photo, or at least a photo of an old subject.

So, if that’s the mood you’d like to achieve, sepia will help get you there.

I applied a sepia treatment to several interior photos taken while visiting Casa Loma, a Gothic Revival mansion in Toronto.

Sometimes, a monochrome/sepia treatment helps a photo, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll share both the color and the sepia images here, and let you decide.

Image 1 — An Old-Timey Telephone

Let’s start simple, with this image of an old-style telephone, nestled in a nook in the wall near one of the larger rooms of the mansion.

Here’s the color image:

Photo of an old-fashioned telephone, in color.
Photo by the author (© Mark Ali)

And here’s the sepia image:

Photo by the author (© Mark Ali)

You be the judge — which is the better treatment? Is the color image more pleasing to the eye? Or, does the sepia image add a historic feel to the photo?

My opinion? I like the sepia version. It works especially well for this subject, for obvious reasons. By the looks of it, that photo could date back to the early…



Mark Ali

I’m a writer, a photographer, a music lover, and a professional ice sculptor. I’m kidding about that last thing. (View my portfolio at: