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As I really want to explore the craft of printing my photographs, I bought a copy of “The Master Photographer’s Toning Book” by Tim Rudman. It’s an excellent, and very comprehensive, guide to all types of toning and when I’ve got the funds to spare on some chemicals I look forward to exploring different toners in depth.
In the mean time there was a section I could immediately have a stab at, which deals with “toning” with tea or coffee. The quotes are important here because, unlike a true toning process – for example selenium toning – which replaces the silver in the image with something else, using tea doesn’t make any chemical change to the image. What we’re really talking about is staining the non-silver parts of the image, so that rather than a black and white image you get a black-on-something-else image.
I don’t really drink tea, but I keep some around for guests and rather than let it turn to dust at the back of the cupboard I thought I could put it to good use staining a couple of practise prints. I brewed up about half a litre of tea with three teabags and let it sit for a while to be extra strong, then diluted it 1:1 with cold water to make it warm rather than scalding so I could actually handle the prints in it. Then I poured it into a standard 8×10 developing tray and slid in a print.
Since there’s nothing light sensitive about this process it can all be done in normal lighting which means you can easily see what’s happening to your print and judge when to take it out, bearing in mind some of the stain will wash out when you rinse it.

Having only tried one type of tea, I’m speculating somewhat, but I assume the exact result will vary according to your chosen variety. In my case the standard supermarket stuff has turned the glossy white base of these two prints a rich cream tone, which particularly in the case of the angel – which was not soaked for as long – I think enhances the print, softening it somewhat and adding a hint of nostalgia. It will be good to try some real toning soon, but in the meantime, a bit of tea seems like a very cost effective way to spruce up the odd print.