Sepia toning on black and white photos has a long history as an effect to make black and white photos look old. In addition to giving a warmer feel to photos, sepia toning can make analog photo prints last longer.
But these days, people only use sepia toning as a sort of vintage effect. I don’t deny that it can look good, but most sepia toning filters exaggerate the color, making photos look sickly. You can use a number of methods in various photo editing apps to apply a sepia tone – either directly through a sepia filter, or using workarounds like this one with Luminar – but Apple Photos doesn’t give you any sepia option as such.
There are a couple of filters in its edit panel, such as “Dramatic Warm,” which does more than just apply a color to a photo; it also changes shadows and highlights a bit. But there is a way to apply a sepia-like color in Apple Photos.
Here’s a photo of a tree I shot recently. I like the tones and the contrasts, especially the tree against the gradient of the sky.
But it might look good with a bit of sepia to give it a hint of warmth. To do this, select a photo in Apple Photos, then press Return to enter Edit mode. Go to the White Balance section in the sidebar. Click the menu that says Natural Gray and choose Temperature/Tint. Move the Temperature slider a bit to the right; not too much. This will skew the colors (even thought it’s a black and white photo) toward the warmer end of the spectrum. Here’s how the tree photo looks with a bit of warmth.
This is much less orangey than most sepia filters, and has a more earthy tone for that reason. It looks a bit more like a selenium tone, in fact; move the slider to the right if you want more orange, a tone closer to classic sepia. And if you apply even less of a change, you can add a very subtle, almost unnoticeable tone that looks almost like an old black and white print. Try, for example, changing the temperature to around 5,200. (Of course, this number will be different for every photo, depending on the light and the white balance setting in your camera.)
Used judiciously, this sort of toning has a nice effect. Overused, it becomes a cliché. So try it out on some of your photos and see if you like the subtle coloring, or want a bit more or a bit less; just play around with the Temperature slider to find what you like.
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