Learn how to colorize black and white photos in only 4 minutes
We at DIYP have featured many fantastic colorizations of black and white images. If you’ve always wanted to try it yourself, this tutorial by Chris from Spoon Graphics is the video you definitely need to watch.
It’s intended for beginners, and it’s simple and easy to follow even if you’ve never colorized an image before. Although this process takes a lot of time and skill, Chris makes it simple and gives you some basic guidelines for adding colors to black and white photos, which you will easily upgrade as you follow the tutorial. This video is a great way to step into the world of photo colorization, and it will make you try the technique out instantly.
You can play with some old family photos or use old photos from the Internet. Chris chose a sepia image of his granddad from WW2 to demonstrate the technique.
1. Cleaning the image
When you open the image in Photoshop, convert it to Smart Object and start by removing the scratches and dust. You can go to Filter > Noise > Dust and scratches, and set the radius to 1-2 pixels and threshold to 20-30 levels. If there are still some scratches and specks of dust left, you can clone them out manually.
2. Adjusting the image tones and contrast
If you’re working with a sepia image, add a Black & White adjustment layer to neutralize the tones. Then add Levels adjustment layer to fix the contrast, and keep in mind you’ll probably need to darken the shadows quite a lot.
3. Converting the image to CMYK
When you’re satisfied with the image, Chris suggests converting it to CMYK (Image > Mode > CMYK Color). This makes the original tones of the image show less if the photo is sepia, and colorizes the darker areas much better.
4. Adding color
After the first three steps, your image is ready for colorization.
Start by adding a new Solid Color adjustment layer in the approximate hue of the area you’re working on. For example, choose the color of the skin. Set the blending mode to Soft Light, and you’ll notice your entire photo is toned with this color. Alternatively, you can choose a blending mode that will add more vibrancy to the selected hue and adjust the opacity if needed.
Next, select the layer mask next to the Solid Color adjustment layer and fill it with black to clear the color overlay.
Now switch to the Brush Tool and adjust the hardness and size, depending on the area you’re working on. Choose the white color for the brush and start painting over the areas where you want the color to reveal. In this case, the skin. Switch the brush to black to remove the color from unwanted areas or clear any mistakes. From this point, you can change the color of the Solid Color adjustment layer, as it’s easier to manage the hue when you see it in the image. You can also adjust the opacity of the layer to tone it down, if necessary.
When you’re done with the skin, apply the same principle to all the other areas: lips, clothes, background, jewelry and so on.
Keep in mind that adding some color in the specific areas makes the colorization look more realistic. For example, some pink around the eyes, blue around the unshaved beard, yellowish tones on the skin and so on. All these should be made practically invisible, with opacity under 20%, but they’ll add some nice color variation to the image.
When you add color to the photo, have in mind that a pen tablet makes the process much easier and more precise. But it’s still possible to do it with the mouse, and you can use a Pen Tool to make selections before applying color.
Once you’ve finished with adding color to all the areas, there are some final tweaks to improve the image further. Add a Color/Saturation adjustment layer on top of the layer stack, to add some vibrancy to the image. You can also add a Color Balance adjustment layer to correct the overall tone of the image.
Here is how it turned out for Chris:
Personally, this tutorial got me so interested, that I sat down and tried colorizing a photo, for the first time in my life. I wasn’t too precise and devoted, but I just wanted to try out the technique – and I’m still pretty satisfied with the result. So here’s my first colorized black and white photo ever:
I love colorized images and love to see when someone brings the old photos back to life this way. I found this tutorial helpful as someone who’s never added color to black and white photos before, and I hope you did too. If you decide to try it out, don’t be shy – share your results with us.
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.