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.