178. Colorize a Photograph
Before You Start
76 Select Areas of Similar Color
84 Save a Selection for Reuse
94 Create an Adjustment Layer
150 Blur an Image to Remove Noise
176 Change a Color Photograph to Black and White
There is no automatic method for colorizing a black-and-white photo. Neither Photoshop Elements nor any other program thus far constructed would be capable of discerning for itself just what you want to colorize and just what colors you want to apply. This is a task that requires extra measures of patience and skill on the part of the artist (that's you), although the process itself is relatively easy to explain.
That said, there's no perfect way to truly convert a black-and-white photographespecially an old oneinto an image that's both colorfully rich and colorfully accurate. So, you have to concede at the outset that what you're working on is an artistic interpretation. You know you're not going to achieve 100% photo-realism, so you try to chalk up the difference to artistic license. What you want to avoid, however, is a paint-by-number look that resembles having cut out translucent, colored acetate strips and taped them over the original image. Avoiding this look can be difficult because there is no single colorizing hue you can choose that represents "flesh tones" for everyone's color of skin.
Every black-and-white photo you colorize will need some preparatory work before you proceed. One preparation I avoided was the histogram adjustment (handled in Photoshop Elements with the Levels command), which tends to make the lights lighter and darks darker. It's more difficult to colorize a white or black region than a middle gray regionor, more accurately, it's more difficult to notice the colorization.
Select the Region to Colorize For selected regions that might later have extra color zones applied on top of existing colorization, you'll find it easier to promote those selections to full layers. With the region selected in the image window, select the Colorized layer in the Layers palette. From the menu bar, select Layer, New, Layer via Copy. In the Layers palette, double-click the name of the new layer (generally Layer 1), type a new name (such as Edward's Face), and press Enter.
Open the image in the Editor in Standard Edit mode and save it in Photoshop (*.psd) format. With the Background layer selected in the Layers palette, choose Layer, Duplicate Layer from the menu bar. Name the new layer Colorized.
With the Colorized layer selected, from the Toolbox, choose a selection tool. In the image, select and enclose a region of the image which should be primarily one color. This could be a solid-colored article of clothing, a portion of an object, or an exposed part of the body, such as the head and neck together, an arm, or a leg. Subtle color variations within these regions, or smaller regions such as eyes, teeth, lips, or jewelry that require major variations can be handled later. Right now, you're selecting the broader region that will receive general colorizing with a single hue.
To make it easier to make alterations to this same region should you require them later (or just so that you don't accidentally lose the selection), use the process discussed in 84 Save a Selection for Reuse to save the selection to the image's alpha channel.
For quickly selecting regions of similar skin tone within a subject's face, hands, or some other part of the body, you might find the Magic Wand tool the handiest. See 76 Select Areas of Similar Color for an introduction to this tool. But if you're colorizing a subject whose face is set against a background whose luminance value isn't much different from values at the edge of the face, you could end up selecting part face and part wall. To avoid this hassle, start by selecting the entire face with the Lasso Tool or Magnetic Lasso Tool first, and then cutting that selection into a new layer. Select the layer, and then use the Magic Wand tool to select portions of that layer. The wand cannot grab any pixels that are outside the current layer.
Apply the Basic Colorizing Hue
From the menu bar, select Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue/Saturation. In the Hue/Saturation dialog box that opens, enable the Preview check box so that you can see the effects of your changes in the actual image, and also enable the Colorize check box. This second check box converts the purpose of the dialog box so that the Hue value you choose refers to a specific color. In this rainbow system based on geometric angular degrees on the color wheel, 0 and values in the vicinity of 0 refer to reds, progressing to orange as values increase. Yellows are around 45, vivid greens around 90, cyans at 150, deep blues at 220, purples at 290, before the cycle returns to pinks by 340 and vivid reds at 360.
Set the Hue slider to the basic hue you want to apply to the region. Set the Saturation slider to a value representing how much of this hue to apply to the region.
What you're determining here is the object's basic "shade." There is no single hue that represents "flesh tones," although the Hue value you're searching for is probably from 10 to 18 for Caucasian skin tones, 16 to 26 for African and Middle Eastern skin tones, or 26 to 32 for Asian skin tones. Darker skin requires heavier Saturation values than lighter skin; usually, you need to saturate Caucasian skin by no more than 20, whereas for African skin, you might require as much as 40. There are exceptions to these scales, as was the case with this particular example, where I applied a ruddier brown hue to the man's skin shadea 22 rather than an 18. A very slight Lightness adjustment of no more than +5 might be necessary when applying heavy saturation in a scene with direct sunlight.
When the image reflects the hue you want to apply to the selected area, click OK.
If you're working with a low-resolution image, when you select a region with the Lasso tool, there's a greater possibility that the edges of your selection will be chunky or blocky. When you apply color, the result might look like you've painted the side of a staircase. However, when you set the Feather option of the Lasso tool to a value above 0 pixels, there's an equal possibility that selections along the edge of the subject's flesh might cause a foggy mist of color to be applied outside the flesh boundaries, or it might leave a foggy mist of gray border inside the flesh boundaries. For best anti-aliasing results, make sure that you enable the Lasso tool's Anti-aliased check box, but also use Select, Modify, Smooth to remove the chunkiness from your edges.
Create Adjustment Layer for Highlights
For solid objects, fabric, or background elements, a single hue might be all that's required for the selected area. But for skin tones, to complete the illusion, you should adjust those portions that reflect the most light (what artists call the "light" areas) to imply more yellow, and the darker portions to tint downward to slightly cooler tones. The result of these manipulations gives the skin some shape and depth.
Here's how to use tinting to create the illusion of shape on a face: In the Layers palette, select the Face layer you created earlier. To select just the bright regions of the object you just colorized, from the Toolbox, choose the Magic Wand tool. On the Options bar, enable the Anti-aliased and Contiguous options and set the Tolerance option to a medium-low value above 0I do well with 16 for brightly lit faces, 8 or less for dimly lit ones. In the image window, click on just the brightest or chalkiest region of the object until the marquee encloses only the bright spots, not the middle values or shadows. These spots generally reflect the greatest amount of lightfor a face, the sides of the cheek facing the sun, the tip of the nose, the front of the forehead. For a solid object, select the areas that reflect the most direct light or that include glares or streaks.
From the menu bar, select Layer, New Adjustment Layer, Hue/Saturation to create an adjustment layer that will modify the hue you just applied in the newly selected areas. In the New Layer dialog box, enter a unique and descriptive name for your adjustment layer, such as Face highlights. Set the blend Mode to Lighten, and Opacity to a value between 66% and 100%, proportional to how much light there is on the subject. (With the earliest photographs, subjects were often extremely brightly lit.) Click OK.
In the Hue/Saturation dialog box that opens, disable the Colorize check box. We want to change the tint of this region relative to its current hue, rather than choosing a specific hue from a color wheel. Depending on the strength of the light, set the Hue slider to a value from 16 to 21. This will add a more yellow tint to the selected region. If necessary, reduce the Lightness value by setting it to a value no lower than 3 to prevent the yellower patch from standing out too prominently. Click OK.
Create Adjustment Layer for Shadows
Choose Select, Deselect from the menu bar to clear the current selection. To select the "shadow" regionsthe dark parts of the skin that face away from the lightclick the Magic Wand tool and leave its options as you set them in step 3. Click with the tool to select the darker regions of the colorized object. For a face, these would include the underside of the nose, the rim of the face, the unlit side of the cheeks, the shadows cast by sockets over the eyes and, most notably, the chin over the neck when the chin is prominent.
You might be thinking, why not just use the Eyedropper tool to absorb skin tone colors from an image in the real world? That might make sense if everybody's skin were a flat color. For colorized images, everybody's skin is a flat colorbut in the real world, skin tones are made up of combinations of pixel patterns that the eye blends to make flesh tones. If you were to apply the Eyedropper tool onto even a well-photographed image, there's a possibility you might pick up a shade that's strangely greener than you know skin to be.
From the menu bar, select Layer, New Adjustment Layer, Hue/Saturation to create an adjustment layer that will modify the hue in the selected shadow areas. In the New Layer dialog box, enter a unique and descriptive name for the adjustment layer, such as Face shadows. Set the blend Mode to Darken, and leave Opacity set to 100%. Click OK.
In the Hue/Saturation dialog box that opens, disable the Colorize check box. We want to tilt the hue on the color wheel so that it points to a color that has the opposite optical characteristics of the basic color you applied in step 2. For face colors, I've often found the optimum spot to be on or around the following: Hue: +43 (slide the Hue slider to the right of 0), Saturation: 50 (slide Saturation to the left of 0), and Lightness: 5. Click OK.
When using a selection tool such as the Lasso to select more than one region of an image, you must make your selection in multiple parts. The best way to prevent your second selection from canceling out your first selection is by clicking the Add to Selection button in the Options bar for the selection tool. See 79 Add Areas Similar to the Current Selection for details.
Colorize Unique Color Zones
Unique features such as blue eyes and red lips should be handled separately. With the Colorized layer active in the Layers palette, select the entire unique color zone with the Lasso tool and then select Enhance, Adjust Color, Adjust Hue/Saturation from the menu bar. In the Hue/Saturation dialog box, enable the Colorize check box. For eyeballs (excluding the pupil) and teeth, you can achieve the effect you want by reducing Saturation to a value near but above 0. Natural lips generally require a Hue setting of about 10 for Caucasian and 14 for African and Asian; Saturation should be set to around 30. Click OK to continue.
Repeat steps 1 through 5 for as many objects in your image as require colorization. Sometimes, you can get away with not colorizing every object in your image. In my example, for instance, some of the objects in the background didn't particularly warrant color. As far back as the 16th century, hand-painted aquatint lithographs of famous paintings originally done in oil often omitted any colorized pigment in certain regions of the print that were deemed less important. Surprisingly, faces were often left gray and barren, while the clothes or the chair on which the subject was seated were lovingly embellished with the finest transparent inks.
An adjustment layer limits its effects to a specified region of an image by way of a tool Photoshop CS users know quite well: a mask. By creating a mask for itself, an adjustment layer cordons off areas of an image, preventing them from being adjusted. This is how adjustment layers such as Face highlights, in this example, restrict themselves to selected parts of an image. See 94 Create an Adjustment Layer for specific details on how to use this feature.
Soften Harsh Edges and Transitions
One of the unwanted side effects of colorizing elements that are adjacent to one anotherfor instance, a person's neck and a blouse's necklineis the appearance of harsh borders. This can be easily eradicated with a quick and mild application of the Blur tool. See 150 Blur an Image to Remove Noise for instructions for using this tool.
View the Result
After you're satisfied with the result, make any other changes you want and save the PSD file. Resave the result in JPEG or TIFF format, leaving your PSD image with its layers intact so that you can return at a later time and make different adjustments if you want.
When using the Hue/Saturation dialog box to colorize the lips of a woman in your image, you might want to give her some lipstick. Ruby-red lipstick requires a Hue setting of around 5 and Saturation turned up to 40. You can experiment with other shades at your leisure.
For this example, I scanned an original photograph of the newly wedded Mr. & Mrs. Edward Chrisman of Shelbyville, Indiana, taken in 1898. Here, I discovered that male and female skin tones, set next to one another, should perhaps vary to give the image maximum character. When two faces side-by-side with one another have exactly the same color, the mind naturally suspects something fishy, even if the subjects are twins. In the case of the dashing groom, I gave his basic skin shade a Hue value of 22, which is more toward the green side of the color wheel than the beautiful bride, to whom I gave a Hue shade of 13. But neither face looks realistic, or even well colorized, when these chosen hues are applied over the entire skin area. So, for the shadow areas, I applied hue adjustment layers on top of the basic skin shades.
Mr. Chrisman's suit proved to be a challenge. Supposedly, it's already black, but how do you colorize a black suit so that it looks naturally black instead of monochromaticlike it was cut out of a newspaper? The secret I employed is borrowed from the realm of impressionist painting: I colorized the layer with a gushing, saturated purple tint, and then applied on top of it a duplicate layer of bright orange (purple's opposite) to pick up the brighter spots. I gave the orange layer the Overlay blend mode and an Opacity setting of 30% so that no visible pixels actually ended up being orange. But the lighter colors of the suit are made warmer, while the medium colors remain icy cool. And because the two colors are optical opposites, the eyes cancel out most of their interplay with each other, with the exception of those tones that are warmer and cooler than the middle section. The result is a suit that looks like black silk rather than black coal. Look for this image in the Color Gallery.