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Monday, August 23, 2010

ATR #40: Colorizing B&W Photos

I received a question about colorizing a Black & White photo. This is a common question. However, the methods of colorization can vary greatly. I can show you a technique or two (one of which is below).

This one is easier to accomplish with Adobe Photoshop. However, if you have Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can get by with using the Selection Tools instead of the Path Tool.

1. Make sure you scan photo or negative in color, in order to gather the full (red, blue and green) channel information. Scanning in Grayscale mode will not give you the full range of highlight and shadow detail.

2. Create a Black and White Adjustment Layer (or a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer with the Saturation Slider pulled all the way to zero). Duplicate the background layer and merge the black and white layer into the background copy.

3. Focus on the gentleman in the picture, and use the Path Tool to trace an outline around the head, separating the skin from the hat and the bow tie.

4. Concentrate on the "Skin" on the man, using these techniques:
  • Quick Mask to see how harsh are the edges and uses Select/Modify-Feather to achieve the best hardness of the edges.
  • Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer with "Colorize" checked, to colorize the "Skin" and move the slider until you get the best color for the skin, using the eyedropper tool to check the numbers.
  • Add color to the cheeks, ears and hair, using Curves and Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers; and use the History Brush or Burn and Dodge Tools to add depth.

—Edited by Judy Bond for Photo Grafix University

Please send your questions and problem photos, your location—and genealogical society affiliation if appropriate—to Eric for future "Ask The Retoucher" columns. Visit Photo Grafix online for more information.

Eric runs Photo Grafix, a humble photo-retouching studio in Evanston, Illinois (USA), making photo illustrations and improving photos for hundreds of people and companies worldwide. If he doesn't know the answer, he won't rest until he finds it. Eric Basir is at your service: With each "Ask The Retoucher" article, he'll help you successfully tackle your digital photographic problems. 

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