Toning this image equalizes certain otherwise distracting colors and redirects our attention to her eyes and hand. See the full color version below.
Based on habits going back to my darkroom days, I’d always thought of sepia and cyan toning as effects for black and white photos. As much as I love monochrome, duotone, and tritone images; newspapers and publicists tend to prefer full color images these days. Unfortunately, the publicity photos I shot last night for the Senga Classic Stage Company featured a too brightly colored background and a leggy teenager whose legs were not supposed to be the subject of her photo. I had to light the background to separate my subjects’ dark hair and/or dark clothes from the darkness of the stage, but the background was RED, that most distracting of colors. To neutralize the background and give the images an unusual look, I added a sepia layer to the color photos – and I really liked the results.
Compared to the image above, I find the vest, legs, and back wall distracting.
Here's a more dramatic example of the wall challenge. I wanted to lighten the mid-tones in the image, but that would have made the wall even brighter. Yes, I could burn and blur the wall, or even export the image into Photoshop and change the color of the wall, but I'm not just trying to solve a technical problem; I'm also trying to create a different sort of look that will entice photo editors and readers. And I'm trying to deliver that look without hours of post-processing effort.
A bit of sepia-tone calms the wall, allowing me to brighten the mid-tones and increase sharpening. The sepia-toned image creates a better illusion of depth; the background does not demand attention.