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Tech how-to: Colorize old black-and-white photos

Does your family have a collection of vintage photos you’d like to modernize with color? Maybe you have some old black-and-white pictures to which you’d like to add color for creative effect.

No matter the why, transforming an image with the addition of color can make all the difference in the world.

Ready to get started? We’ll walk you through the process.

Fix the base image

Before we jump into the steps, this process requires some photo editing skills and a program that uses layers, like Photoshop or GIMP.

GIMP is a free alternative that has all the features of Photoshop without the cost. Tap or click here for direct download links.

If you’re working on a vintage photo that’s been scanned, you may need to start by fixing defects first. Use a photo editing healing tool to remove scratches, dust, and any nicks or mars. For steps on doing that, check out this article on how to digitally restore old photos.

If you’re working on a color or sepia image, neutralize the colors by converting it to black and white. Add the black-and-white adjustment layer instead of converting to the grayscale mode for more flexibility.

Now all you have to do is increase contrast and exposure using levels adjustment layers.

Add white balance

So much of the color we see in an image originates as a result of light conditions. We see more blues in the early morning light and warm yellows in bright sunlight.

To give your photos the right lighting effect, add a curves adjustment layer and adjust the Red-Blue-Green channel to get the look you want. Add a layer mask to get this effect on parts of an image instead of the entire thing.

Need some inspiration for your own photography goals? Check out Dreamstime for thousands of amazing pro images and start getting inspired now!

Add color

Painting color into your photo requires a lot of patience. First, create a new layer and make sure the layer blend mode is set to Color. This allows you to add colors without losing the underlying texture.

Next, add individual colors to specific areas in your image. You can do this by using Paint, Fill, Luminosity mask and color adjustments.

When using Paint, choose a paintbrush size and shape that allows you to apply color to the areas of your photo with the texture effect you want. Use Fill to select an area to work on and fill it with that specific color.

A luminosity mask is an easy method that allows you to select tonal ranges to be manipulated. There are several Photoshop actions available online that allow you to create these masks quickly, then use them to selectively apply color to different ranges on your photo.

While working on individual colorized layers, you can add adjustments for Hue-Saturation-Luminosity, Brightness/Contrast and Color Balance to get the desired effect.

Add effects

How you choose to add color to black-and-white images is entirely up to you. You can create pop art effects by using bold colors and adding patterns to your layers or make your photos vintage pastel by reducing the brightness and saturation.

Create an alternate universe full of colors not found in nature, or try other techniques that involve only a touch of color, tints or interesting hues. You are only limited by your imagination, as well as your patience limit, so get out there and start creating!

Want something easier? Try this free site

These steps are tricky and if you’re not familiar with photo editing, it may be too tough to pull off. Luckily, there are programs and services that do the job for you. One good one is MyHeritage. While it isn’t free forever, you can colorize 10 photos free when you create an account and get unlimited editing for 14 days. Tap or click to try it out.

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