An old black-and-white photo of a mother with her two children in a square.

Photoshop: Colouring photos

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“From old to new”! Old black-and-white photos have often lost their vitality after many years of storage, or newly taken ones are not very expressive or lack a certain artistic aesthetic. This is where you can be creative. By editing photos with a professional software like Photoshop, you get a variety of design options. You can, for example, intensify the colour of an image at a later date or colour individual image elements of black-and-white photos.

In the following, we introduce you to some techniques for colouring photos in Photoshop and then give you important tips that you should consider when designing your black-and-white photos.

Techniques for colouring in Photoshop

In Photoshop, the most popular paid image editing program, many different methods and techniques can be used to partially or completely retouch images. Before you begin colouring your photos, you should develop an idea of the desired end result. Think about whether you want to design the entire photo or just accentuate individual elements with colour at the beginning. This consideration influences the actual method.

The Color Splash Effect

If you only want to apply colour to certain elements of the photo, for example to draw the viewer’s attention to these areas, use the Color Splash technique. You can only highlight one or a few color sources in an otherwise black-and-white photo

For the Color Splash technique, you must use a coloured digital photo, which you first convert into a black-and-white photograph. The desired elements are then re-coloured. The areas are filled manually with the selected colour. To do this, use detailed brush strokes to apply colour to the whole image. This gives you an impressive photo that looks as if it had been created by a professional.

In this tutorial you will find illustrative instructions for the Color Splash technique using Photoshop.

Colorkey-Foto - ein rotes Velo in einer Gasse mit Kopfsteinpflaster

Repainting of a complete photo: Tinting and manual colouring

With older black-and-white photos, the colour has often faded. The image is then neither particularly expressive, nor does it appear artistic or of high quality. With Photoshop, you can breathe new life into these photos by giving them new colours.

altes Schwarz-Weiss-Foto einer Mutter mit ihren beiden Kindern auf einem Platz

In Photoshop there are several techniques for this. One possibility is to assign a basic colour tone to the photograph at the beginning, which gives the whole picture a certain atmosphere and colouring. On this basis, individual layers are then selected and painted with different colours. Here it makes sense to work with different layers above the original photo in order to be able to post-process these separately afterwards. You can also apply a gradient to the hue so that the intensity and saturation of the base colour vary within the image.

Another possibility to colour black and white photos completely is offered by Photoshop using manual colouring. The step of giving the image a general basic tint is not necessary here. Different elements are filled with colours manually. You also work with brush strokes to be able to apply the color in detail and exactly. This way you get a realistic colour design that creates a colourful and modern looking photograph from an expressionless photo.

The following tutorial provides detailed instructions on how to colour a black-and-white photo.

Tips for expressive and realistic photos

  1. If you want to scan old black and white photos in advance to be able to re-colour them afterwards, make sure that they are not too badly damaged or without any contrast. Such images often cannot be improved significantly by editing them.
  2. No matter which technique is used in Photoshop, it is always recommended to work with different layers for colouring the different areas of colour. This allows easy and targeted post-processing to perfect your photos.
  3. The quality of a re-coloured photograph is determined by a realistic colour design. Therefore, use many different colour nuances and pay attention to the transitions between the individual colours. The extra effort is well worth it.
  4. If you only colour individual elements of your black-and-white photo, the artistic accentuation of these areas is the main focus. Here you do not have to pay attention to a realistic colour representation.
  5. As with other post-processed photos, you should also consider adjusting the lighting, adding sharpness, retouching, and filtering on re-coloured photos to make them more impressive and individual.

Photoshop isn’t the only photo editing program that gives you great photo colouring options. You can also use free alternatives to create individual photographs.

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