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  • Nov

    Two Techniques for Colorizing Black and White Photos


    by Chad Neuman

    Adding color to a photograph can be a useful technique in Adobe Photoshop. Whether it is adding color to an old family photography or colorizing a photo you took in sepia or black and white, this technique adds a different look to those grayscale images. There are actually a few different ways to accomplish this with different variations and looks, and I cover a few of them here. Let’s get started.

    Step 1
    Open a black and white, sepia, or similiar photo in Photoshop. I got this one from the weekly free photo at iStockPhoto:


    Step 2
    One way to add color to an area is to make a selection and adjust the hue. First, press Cmd-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate the Background layer in the Layers palette. This will add a duplicated layer titled “Layer 1.” This way we will work on a duplicated layer, so if we mess up with the adjustments we can delete the layer and duplicate again (or of course undo or use the History palette).


    Step 3
    Next, make a selection with a selection tool of an area to adjust the hue. I selected the grassy area using the Polygonal Lasso tool. Tip: Press the spacebar when using the tool to turn the cursor into the Hand tool to move around the canvas (so we can keep the selection tool selected but still move around the canvas). Also, press Cmd and the plus or minus sign (PC: Ctrl and the plus or minus sign) to zoom in or out even while using a selection tool.


    Step 4
    In this example, the grass blade near the bottom are not in the selection. That is okay, since we’ll be using another technique to colorize those. Round out the selection so the entire area that we’d like to colorize a certain hue is selected.


    Step 5
    Next, we need to adjust the hue within the selection. Go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation. Click the Colorize checkbox to check it. I adjusted the Hue to 115 to make the grass green, the Saturation to 25, and I did not adjust the Lightness. I adjusted the Hue for a more subtle green here. Tip: Adjust the edges of the selections by going to Select>Modify>Feather to have a slightly softer edge. For my example I kept the edges unmodified.


    Step 6
    The selection and hue adjustment is one way to colorize areas of a photo, but here’s another technique. Do not de-select the area just yet. First, click the New Layer icon on the bottom of the Layers palette. This will create a new layer called “Layer 2.”


    Step 7
    Next, go to Select>Invese to select the inverted area of the photo. Make sure Layer 2 is highlighted in the Layers palette, and then choose the Brush tool in the Tools palette. Click the Foreground color on the bottom of the Tools palette and select a color to paint onto the photo. I chose #663a0c, a brown hue to paint the wooded background in this photo. Click-and-drag to paint the area. Don’t worry about losing the texture; we will fix that soon. Notice that having the selection prevents us from painting over the previously-selected area, in this case, the grass. Tip: Press the left or right bracket to adjust the side of the brush during brushing.


    Step 8
    The next step is the important one to avoid losing the texture of the underlying layer. Change the Layer Blending Mode of the Layer 2 to something like Multiply, Overlay, or other mode which will have the texture of the underlying show through but the hue of the brush layer be visible as well. For this example, Darken works best for a unique, vintage look.


    Step 9
    Click the Create New Layer icon on the Layers palette and paint another color onto another area to adjust the hue. Repeate this for the various areas, so each new area that needs a different hue is a different layer with an adjusted layer blending mode. For the flesh color, I changed that layer to Overlay blending mode and the Opacity to 35% and the Fill to 50% to be more subtle. If you’re using this photo as an example, remember to paint a new layer for the grass blades we missed earlier. For the lips, I chose Soft Light layer blending mode with an Opacity set to 50%.


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