Tea or Coffee? – An English Country Garden

In this article I will be using Tea & Coffee to tone prints of two photos taken in the beautiful gardens of Somerleyton Hall, a 19th century country house in the County of Suffolk.

Both Photographs were shot on Ilford HP5 at 400 ASA, Developed in Xtol and printed on Ilford RC Pearl Paper.

Using Tea & Coffee is a cheap and relatively eco-friendly method to add tone to a print and the results can be fantastic.

I started off with this photo that I had already printed on a previous occasion that I thought would really benefit from a warm tone. As I had already printed this image I did not need to produce any test strips or control prints and I just followed my notes from the previous printing session.

Stretching down one side of the walled garden at Somerleyton, there are two lovely old wooden framed greenhouses. I came across this door hidden beneath a canopy engulfed in climbing plants. All was silent save for the hum of insects and birdsong. This was a place where you could just sit and let time run away from you.

As you can see from the images below, The prints did require some dodging to maintain detail in some darker areas of the photo.

So with 3 identical prints produced, I served the beverages in trays and set about dunking some prints in!

I left the prints submerged in the trays for 45 minutes, agitating occasionally to ensure even toning.

Once out of the brews, I gave each print a final rinse before hanging up to dry.

Here are the three different prints pictured below. From left to right:
No Toning, Tea, Coffee

As you can see, the effect on the ‘Tea-Toned’ print is much more subtle than that of the Coffee. I like both but I think I prefer the Coffee.


Next up is the image below

The next photo to be treated to a caffeinated bath is this photo of flowers on the outside of the same greenhouse.

What first caught my eye and prompted me to take this shot was the windows trailing off to the right of the frame with the open window really standing out. When composing the photo, these small flowers in the foreground kept turning my head and ultimately became the focus of the shot. Though my eye seems to be drawn to windows .

Using the same contrast grade as the previous image, I produced two lots of test strips; one for the foreground and another for the windows. Starting on 20 seconds, each step I added 10 seconds of exposure (20,30,40,50,60)

The I settled on an overall exposure of 30 seconds plus a 10 second burn on the window area.

I printed 3 copies of the photo.

Here they are in the trays receiving their toning for 45 minutes. Might as well put the kettle on…

And here they are all washed and dried. From left to right:
No Toning, Tea, Coffee

Again, I think the Coffee is a winner here.

So there we have it, toning prints with Tea & Coffee. The results are varied and different to the look you would get from conventional Selenium or Sepia toners but I think as an alternative, cheap way of toning prints both work well. The tea is very subtle and does add a nice gentle warmth to the prints though I thought a couple of areas of the print looked a little patchy, maybe more agitation was needed…
The Coffee toned prints came out beautifully and both prints that were toned with coffee were my favourites.

The final results I envisioned when starting these particular prints were very much inspired by the tonality of Pictorialism movement photographer Alfred Stieglitz and also the beautiful work of Josef Sudek.

Here are the finished Prints below:

Entrance to the greenhouse. 10×7 silver gelatin print. Coffee toned
Flowers at Somerleyton. 10×7 silver gelatin print. Coffee toned

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Tea or Coffee? – An English Country Garden”

    1. Thanks Kevin. I used 6 teaspoons of Coffee in 1.5 litres of water. I’m not sure how different the end result would be I had used less or more coffee. Maybe a blog for another day!
      The brewed coffee sat in a bottle for well over a week.

      Liked by 1 person

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