Colorizing monochrome photographs is nothing new. In fact, photographers were hand-coloring photos as far back as the 1800s. But, one of my gripes has always been how artificial and “flat” the images always looked. Even with Photoshop, many people seem content to just slap a single color over an area and call their work done, but color in the real world is not so simple.
Retoucher Joaquin Villaverde released an excellent video of a digital restoration and coloring of an old, damaged photograph in which he restored the image to its former glory and then brought it to life with meticulous color, yielding a beautiful end result.
In the video, it’s almost like seeing a sculptor breaking a block of marble for the first time and watching as a masterpiece unfolds.
I think where most people get it wrong is that an image, whether it be a painting, a photograph, or the what we see on a daily basis, is not comprised of shapes. An image is comprised of light (or the absence thereof). So, when coloring a black and white image, simply adding shapes of flat color doesn’t cut it. The “light” in a photograph, the shadows, and subtle transitions all need meticulous attention for a realistic and believable result.
If you’re interested in giving it a try yourself, check out the video below. While the results aren’t the best, it will give you a great starting point from which to start branching out on your own to hone your skill.