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Black and White Colorizing

We live in a world dominated by color, but photographs up to the middle of the 20th century were limited to black and white, actually grayscale. Eight bit scans of black and white photos only contain 256 shades of gray, far less information compared to the millions of shades of color today's digital cameras can record.  A scene that looks impressive in color can be rather disapointing in black and white as the color contrast doesn't always show up in the black and white image. Photo editing tools allow us to add color back to black and white pictures and they can turn otherwise well composed, but tonally dull pictures into works of art.

Colorizing black and white images is basically painting-by-the-numbers without the numbers and often times the borders between different elements can be difficult to determine.  The process is slow, tedious and exacting, despite claims make by some colorizing programs that a image can be easily colorized in 10 or 15 minutes.  These colorizing programs work on the principle that you apply color to the areas that you want colorized and what the program does is spreads out the color to uncolored pixels until it meets color pixels coming from another direction.  It takes a lot of effort to get these programs to work half way decently.  They do, however, do a decent job of colorizing cartoons and they are interesting toys for young children who have artistic talant that needs to be developed before they start spreading real paint all over the place.  Their other drawbacks are that it is difficult to fine tune the colors in the resulting images and they do a terrible job colorizing shadow and highlight areas.  

There are several things that you need to consider before having a black and white picture colorized.   Colorizing can not put back into a black and white image all the color gradations and color nuances that would have been in the picture had it been taken in color.  Despite this, a well done colorization can be quite impressive when viewed as a print.  Colorized images are ment to be viewed as prints, not as digital images on a computer sceen or digital picture frame.  Images to be colorized need to have a subject that is worth colorizing, well composed and should have what we might call artistic value.  The various elements that make up the picture should be as well defined as possible and without too much clutter.  

All my colorizing is done in Photoshop and the way I set up the files allows me to quickly and easily change colors or make fine adjustments.  I will make reasonable color changes even after you have paid for the images if you decide that the colors don't have the particular feel you want, althought I try to work all this out before I send back the final file.  For example, you may tell me someone has blue eyes and then later you find out they really had brown eyes. I can also provide you with different files for color variations at a reasonable extra charge if you are not sure what colors you want in the image.  You can give me specific colors you want or I can colorize them in a way that is pleasing to me, which you can then alter.  I tend to prefer earthy colors, pastels and colors that are not overly saturated.  

This picture of two young kids has a cute quality to it and the black and white image has enough tonal value to make it a decent black and white picture, but the girl's light pants draws attention away from the faces.  I gave the girl's pants a darker color which gives a nice overall balance to the picture and doesn't draw attention away from the faces.

This picture isn't bad by itself.  The colorized version shows how color can provide contrast that is not present in the original black and white image.  A picture like this one offers a lot of possibilities for different color schemes.  

In this picture the childs face and clothes seen to be out of balance.  The colors in the colorized version gives a added sense of depth to the picture and puts the focus onto the face.  Replacing the background almost makes it look like a studio portrait.

The black and white version of this photograph of a young woman is a nice snapshot taken without any fancy lighting and on a film that had some grain to it. The shirt and pants have the same gray value and the overall feel is a bit flat.  Adding color seperates the individual elements and adding an attractive background gives a feeling of depth and beauty.  A colorized picture like this one would make an impressive portrait-painting effect as a larger canvas print.

This picture was taken under the same conditions as the previous image, but has fewer elements to colorize.  The dark sweater would suggest a dark color.  In this case I used a dark blue, but many other colors may also have worked as well.  Providing color to the sweater doesn't distract from the face as much as the dark sweater in the black and white version.

The black and white version of this picture has an overall flat gray tone to it while the colorized version has more feeling of depth and contrast.  The grass had to be green, so I chose blue for the shirt as it doesn't conflict with the grass.  Backgrounds that are out of focus, but still recognisable, as in this picture, can be difficult to do and still maintain a natural look.  

The picture of this young girl is well composed, but the face is over exposed.  No matter what I did I couldn't get a decent enough black and white version of this image.  The washed out face also made it difficult to get a realistic looking color version, so I decided to give it a painted looked.  Printed on canvas will make this picture look like it was hand painted.

This picture of the same young girl was taken under similar conditions and is also well composed.  The girl's and doll's faces and sweaters have a similar tonal value.  Adding different colors to each of the main elements in the picture nicely seperates all the elements and gives a nice feeling of depth and color contrast.  Another example of how a snapshot can be turned into something very artistic by colorizing.  Great potental for a canvas print.

The original picture is a bit overexposed.  The colorized version has a feeling of depth and contrast that is lacking in the original.  With the simple composition and limited number of elements making up the picture, it would be possible to use many different color combinations successfully.  In this case I chose soft pastels so as not to distract from the face.

This picture of the young girl on a swing is quite nice and would make a nice black and white print with a bit of tweeking.  To get the colorized version I cropped the picture and gave the background a frosted grass look that helps separates the girl from the background.

A nicely composed picture, but the wooden gate is a bit too dark.  Since it is a wooden fence I made it brown which dicated the other colors.  The light blue shirt draws attention to the girl while the brown tint to the background combined with the gate provides focus to the girl.

This picture is dominated by the girls face, hair and arm.  Many color combinations for the dress and grackground would have worked, but I liked this combination of soft pink and blue.

The black and white original has enough tonal variation to make a decent black and white print.  I usd bolder colors for the colorized version which adds contrast, helps seperate the woman from the background and keeps the focus on the face.

The original picture of this cute girl is underexposed.  A tonal correction with some touch up resulted in a decent enough image, except for the background.  The hat prsented some problems finding a color that looked good and might be a color that a girl would wear.  I liked the yellow I finally came up with and then colorized the other elements to blend with the yellow hat.  May not be by color theory, but I liked the results.  I didn't like any of the replacment backgrounds I tried, but this combination of bluring and adding color to the background produced a dramatic, but not overpowering effect.