Feature: Colorizing Old Photographs
In the mid-eighties Ted Turner took some heat over his efforts to colorize classic black-and-white movies–films like The Maltese Falcon and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Few enthusiasts, it turned out, wanted to see Bogart in faux color, and the hue and cry from movie purists was significant. But your own critics are less likely to give you grief if you want to colorize some of your black-and-white photos.
I’m not suggesting that you’ll want to add color to all the old mid-century photographs stuffed in shoeboxes in your attic, then throw away the originals. But adding color is so much fun and so easy to do that you probably won’t be able to resist spicing up the occasional image, just to see what grandpa looked like in his sixties-era Mod suit.
Get the Photo Ready
Want to give it a shot? You’ll need to start by scanning an old black-and-white image into your PC. If you don’t have one handy, you can use a photo of my relatives.
After you open the image in your favorite image editor, your first task should be getting it ready for business. If it’s crooked, for instance, use a straightening or rotation tool to right the picture, then crop it.
For my picture, I selected Paint Shop Pro’s Straighten tool (it’s one of the four tools accessible via the second icon from the top of the toolbar) and lined up the rule across the tilted bottom of the image, then clicked Apply in the Tool Options toolbar at the top of the screen.
The next task is to run the One Step Photo Fix in Paint Shop Pro. To do this, click the Enhance Photo button in the Photo toolbar atop the screen and choose One Step Photo Fix. If you can’t see the button, select View, Toolbars, Photo. Watch the top of the screen and you’ll either see the toolbar appear or disappear, depending on whether it was initially displayed. If you see it appear, just use it. If you see it disappear, repeat the process to toggle it back on, and you’ll know where to find it.
You might also want to clean up dust, scratches, tears, and other artifacts. There’s something odd in my grandmother’s hair (probably a scratch), so I selected the Clone Brush (it’s one of the tools listed under the eighth icon down from the top of the toolbar) and used it to cover the blemish with hair cloned from nearby on her head. There are lots of little scratches in this image, so you could spend a lot of time cleaning. For our purposes, let’s head directly to the colorizing process.
Working in Layers
Next, let’s make an exact duplicate of this image and add it as a new layer. Choose Layers, Duplicate. We can now make color changes to the top layer without affecting the original image underneath, letting us adjust the intensity of the colorization by playing with the layer’s opacity.
Ready? Grab the selection tool of your choice. I like to work with the Freehand Selection tool in Smart Edge mode, but you might prefer the Magic Wand (both are options when you click on the fifth icon down on the toolbar). Set Feather to about 1 pixel, and select one of the faces.
Once a face is selected, click on the Flood Fill tool (five tools up from the bottom of the toolbar, shaped like a paint can) and set the Blend Mode to Color in the toolbar at the top of the screen. Before we can actually paint, we need to set the color: Double-click on the foreground color in the Materials palette on the right side of the screen. (If your Materials palette isn’t displayed, select View, Palettes, Materials to bring it up.) The foreground color is the upper big square. You should now see the color selection window. For a typical Caucasian skin tone–which will suit the people in this image–set the Red, Green, and Blue levels to about 215, 190, and 150, respectively, then click OK. Now click Flood Fill to colorize the selected face. You can repeat this process for all of the skin in the image.
Then select the clothing and background and add color to as much or as little as you wish. When you’re done with the image, you might want to adjust the overall intensity of the colorization. To do that, make sure the Layer Palette is open (if it isn’t, choose View, Palettes, Layers) and then double-click on the Copy of Background layer–this is the one on top that we’ve been painting. Then you can use the Opacity slider in the layer’s dialog box to change the color effect. When you’re satisfied, click OK to keep your changes.
Here’s my own colorization effort, partially completed.
Dave’s Favorites: Microsoft Digital Image Pro 9
If you like the Windows Task Pane, which offers easy access to common tasks in XP’s Explorer and folder windows, you’ll love Microsoft’s Digital Image Pro. And if you think that saying an image editor works like Windows XP is faint praise, you’re wrong. Microsoft has hit a home run with Digital Image Pro; the new version 9 has emerged near the top of my short list of favorite image editors.
Make no mistake: I still prefer Jasc Paint Shop Pro and possibly even Adobe Photoshop Elements because their traditional interfaces feel more open-ended and more powerful. But after using Digital Image Pro for a week or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that it does almost everything a typical digital photographer could possibly want, and the XP-like Task Pane makes it oh-so-easy.
You never have to go hunting for features in Digital Image Pro. Virtually everything the program can do is laid out in task-oriented blurbs down the side of the screen. You don’t have to guess which tool is useful for a certain kind of job, because the job itself is spelled out in plain English.
And Digital Image Pro has some nifty features. There’s a Smart Erase tool, for instance, for eliminating unwanted elements from a scene. Instead of stamping extraneous stuff out with a clone brush–the traditional method–Digital Image Pro lets you draw a lasso around the offending object and click the Erase button.
Will I give up Paint Shop Pro for Microsoft’s newest image editor? Nope. But I will recommend it to anyone new to digital photography who wants a simple but powerful editor. At press time, I found Digital Image Pro for about $85 at the PCWorld.com Product Finder.
Q&A: Fixing Blurry Pictures
I have a relatively new 3.1-megapixel digital camera. I find that when I take pictures of my kids, the images are sometimes blurry–especially when there is motion in the picture. I have tried to correct this with Microsoft Picture It, but the results have not been good. What do you suggest?
–David Trachtenberg, New York University
I get questions like this one pretty frequently, David. I see a few potential problems. The first one is that your digital camera has a lag between when you press the shutter release and when the image actually gets taken. That lag can be anything from a tenth of a second all the way up to a second or more, depending upon which digital camera you own.
Shutter lag is caused by a number of things, including the automatic exposure and focusing system, white balance calculation, and even the time it takes the camera to clear out the image sensor of stray data. By the time the picture is actually taken, those kids have started careening out of your frame. Hence the blur. The easiest solution is to pre-focus the camera by slightly depressing the shutter release button, and only pressing all the way down when you’re ready to take the picture. That’ll shave some time off of the pre-exposure lag. It’s not perfect, but it helps.
Another possibility is that your shutter speed is simply too low. Action photos require a fast shutter speed–like 1/500 second, 1/1000 second, or faster. If your camera has a Sports mode, try it. Or switch to Shutter Priority, if possible, and increase the shutter speed as high as it’ll go.
And finally, remember to hold the camera steady. If you’re shaking the camera or failing to carefully track a moving target through the viewfinder, you can’t expect to get a sharp picture.
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.
Here’s how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don’t forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.
This Week’s Hot Pic: “Pelicans,” by Gloria Gordon, Manhattan Beach, California
Gloria says that she took this photo at a bird sanctuary in the Florida Keys.
“It was feeding time, and hundreds of pelicans crowded toward the man tossing out fish. It was quite literally a feeding frenzy. I took the picture with a Canon G2 in natural light.”
Hot Pic of the Month: Each month we choose one of our weekly winners to be the Hot Pic of the Month. For October, we chose “Angel of the Morning,” by Mike Sullivan. Mike says that he took this photo right after an ice storm in January at Silver Falls State Park in Silverton, Oregon.
Congratulations to Mike and to everyone who won the Hot Pic of the Week this month. Keep those entries coming!
We want your feedback! Send your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a question that you’d like to see answered in the weekly Q&A, send it to email@example.com.
For back issues, visit our
Digital Photo Tips archive. Sign up
to have the Digital Focus Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.