Bringing the past to life with colour



Because it’s fun! That’s the main reason for me. There are supplementary reasons I can use to justify my hobby. Though some purists are horrified that anyone should alter the original photos in any way, people have been trying to add colour to their work since photography was invented. It took until the 1970s for colour film to be viable for most people, as technology improved and costs came down. Until then, the most popular method of adding colour had been hand-tinting, with a water based dye. The main problem with this method was that, unless you had the negative and could afford reprints, you only had one go at it. One mistake, and your photo was ruined.

With the advent of home computing came the ability to digitise photos, and work on virtual copies that could be duplicated as many times as required, at no cost.

Yes, but why? What’s the point, apart from “fun”?

When I was a child, oh so many years ago, the world was a brightly coloured place yet, when I look at photos from that time, it seems so dull. Adding colour, for me, brings that past, and photos from long before I was born, into the present. People and places seem more real to me, not just vestigial footnotes from history.

Aren’t some photos better in black and white?

Yes, and that’s the beauty of digital colourising – it’s non-destructive. You can have your cake, and eat it too!

I saw a bit of the film “A Christmas Carol” on television a while ago, that had been colourised. I didn’t like it, and preferred it in black and white. Both versions exist, so you can choose which to watch. Nobody has lost anything. Everyone wins.

I’d like to have a go at this? Where do I start?

It’s easy to get started and, though better software makes it easier to get good results, it need not cost a penny, so long as you already have a computer and an internet connection.

Adding colour

Paint Shop Pro has a brush that changes or adds colours without any loss of detail, and has been the program I’ve used for quite a while. I still use it to tidy up missed details after I’ve used another program, Recolored, or Codijy, to do the bulk of the work. These programs are quicker to use, and give a more natural effect of colours very slightly bleeding together, as sometimes happens with a real colour photo. Codijy even lets you use gradients which, for example, allow for very natural skin tones. Codijy is the program I use the most.
There is a free program, called Instant Photo Color. It’s a bit basic, but can give excellent results.

Most image editors will allow you to add a transparent layer. Setting this layer to “Multiply” instead of “Normal” will let you paint colour onto the photo without loss of detail.

After colouring, the Hue Saturation will probably need adjusting, which is akin to tuning the colour down on a television. Almost any image editor can be used for that too.

Repairing damaged photos

I generally use Serif PhotoPlus to repair scratches and other blemishes on old and damaged photos, but The Gimp has similar tools, and is free. (And there’s a free version of Photoplus too.)

Effects and Filters

Sometimes a photo, particularly an old one, will look flat, and the colour looks fake. I usually use Filter Forge,  a paid for program, but the individual effects are then free. Photoshop filters can be used in most image editors, and The Gimp has a vast array of filters and effects that you can download.

One simple effect is to make a duplicate layer, set it to “Multiply”, then adjust the transparency

Careful Now!

I’ve used the links to free software above without any trouble, but with some of them you need to be a bit careful. Decline any offer of additional software and, when installing, choose “Custom Install”, and uncheck any other programs that are offered. You probably don’t want another search engine, least of all one that insists on being the default one. As long as you’re careful, and don’t rush, you won’t have any problems.

6 responses

  1. Ah – the magic of colour. You’ve done really well and it’s something I like to do too. I’ve also seen it done very crudely – but I think yours are splendid! (The Lily Langtree is just fab!) Well done – and keep at it.


    September 10, 2014 at 1:53 am

  2. michael

    Liked by 1 person

    September 7, 2015 at 1:42 am

  3. michael


    September 7, 2015 at 1:43 am

  4. I would like to use a tinted photo of Charles Darwin as part cover of a book that I have written:
    Please advise me about copyright etc.


    May 26, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    • As far as I can tell, the original image is public domain. Indeed, a modified version of this photo has already been used on a book cover, “The Readable Darwin”, so I don’t anticipate a problem. You are welcome to use my colourised version. If you do, could you let me know? I can add it to my CV!


      May 26, 2019 at 5:22 pm

      • Stephen Gaunt

        Thank you very much! I shall certainly let you know if I use your colourised version.


        May 27, 2019 at 4:25 pm

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