Aging bw photos

How to make analog black and white photos seem older

When I recently googled for details on how to make analog black-and-white (bw) photos seem older, I was surprised to see that I did not find one single result on what I was looking for - everything was either about digital images (“How to make your photo seem old in Photoshop in 10 easy steps” yadayada…) or an incomplete description. Since I remembered the rough outline from old photo books I read 10-15 years ago, here is how I did it:

General procedure

The general procedure involves two parts (not counting the normal development beforehand):

  1. Toning the silver (black) parts
  2. Staining the white paper


You will need

  1. Your photo (obviously)
  2. Sulphide toner
  3. Coffee (10-15 spoons per liter)

Toning the silver parts

Toning the silver parts to a sepia-brownish color is usually done with sulphide toner - the most popular of which is probably Tetenal Triponal (at least in Germany). Make sure to get the odorless variety or your house will stink like rotten eggs for a week.

You can pretty much just adhere to the Triponal manual, just remember to pre-soak the picture (and have it properly washed after fixation!). Personally I like to go for the “medium brown” rather than sepia, because I found the latter too subtle. The whole process involves pre-soaking, bleaching your image (it may disappear completely), rinsing, toning, then rinsing again. During this process, much of the silver is replaced by silver sulphide, giving it the brownish tint - and, as a side-effect, a higher expected lifetime.

Staining the whites

Alright, once you’re done with the previous step, you end up with a picture that shows dark brown instead of the silvery-black, but the whites are still totally white. To remedy this, we will use coffee. Make a True Man’s brew ™ with the aforementioned 10-15 spoons per liter and let it cool down (!). Depending on the paper, your bath time may vary - for the PE paper I used (Tetenal Work), a 20 minute bath produced a nice heavy yellowy-brown stain. The stain will go a little darker during drying, so don’t be disappointed if you only see a slight yellow beforehand.

After the staining, wash and dry as usual.

[Update:] You can also stain the paper with black tea, but be careful, some black teas are actually too green (especially Darjeeling) and will produce a greenish tint accordingly. It is probably better to stick to coffee. [/Update]


Somehow there seems to be the myth that this process doesn’t work on PE paper - which is absolute nonsense, I successfully did this on Tetenal Work, which is PE. Now, of course PE doesn’t feel completely like the real deal, the backside of the paper will probably not stain (much), so fibre-based paper will feel more authentic - but it’s also a pain in the behind to work with. Choose accordingly.