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Have a go at hand-colouring your images

By March 17, 2017 Photography No Comments

Hand-coloured photographs are almost as old as photography itself, but their popularity was at its height during the first half of the twentieth century before the advent of Kodak’s first colour film, when photographers such as Wallace Nutting employed hundreds of colourists to hand paint black-and-white prints of his mostly landscape photographs.

hand-colouring photos

Hand-coloured photographs are still popular today because they offer something unique they create a sense of nostalgia and offer an exceptional method for enhancing a photograph. They also tend to have a large sentimental value to their original owners or subjects, and this technique is often excellent for creating a precious image as a gift.

Go for authenticity

Old black-and-white photos often work best for hand colouring as they have a few scratches, blotches, and grain that lend them an authentic look that’s hard or at least tedious to replicate digitally. This image was shot in the 1960s at a popular British seaside resort. A scan was made and the file opened in the image editor.


Create a duplicate layer

First, duplicate the image in the Layers palette. Call the duplicate layer Colour and change the blending mode to Color.

Pick a colour and start painting

Open the Color Picker dialogue and, with a soft round brush, zoom in and start to paint over the photo. Try to ensure an even spread of colour, particularly wherever you’re adding skin tones.

Hand-colouring images

Careful control

You may find that reducing the Opacity and Flow settings in the Tool Options bar helps you to build up the colours in a more controlled way.

Follow the edges carefully

Adjust the size of the brush to access small areas. As long as you have low Opacity and Flow settings it’s less noticeable if you cross from one element to another. If you make an obvious mistake, use the History palette to go back a step.

hand-colouring images

A nostalgic effect

Once you’ve finished painting, if necessary, reduce the opacity of the Colour layer a little in the Layers palette to tone down the colours.

hand-colouring photos

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Photo School Composition, Michael Freeman and Steve LuckPhoto School: Digital Editing
Michael Freeman and Steve Luck

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