With a digital brush 


Colouring black & white photos by hand is an old and proud photographic artform. Proud for a good reason; the techinque demanded a great deal of skill. The slightest error and your work was destroyed for good.

Digital technique

Once again the digital era has made this noble art much easier than before. Now you are free to make experiments, have regrets and redo to you heart´s delight without worrying about destroying your work - or destroying your original photograph.  

But you won´t get a good result if you don´t do things right, though. Many photographers try to apply colours directly on the photograph with the brush tool set as "normal". This will hardly ever produce good results. Even if you try coluring in a seperate layer and then blending the layers afterwards it will most certainly not look nice. Even if you set opacity as low, it will most certainly look like you´ve replaced the photo´s own colours with "artificial" ones. Which you have, of course - but it shouldn´t show, now should it?

The right way of doing it could be by starting with converting the photograph to RGB greyscale. If it´s only greyscale without RGB colourspace, you simply can´t apply colours. Then you make another (duplicate) layer in which to apply colour. Choose brush tool in "lighten" mode, or color dodge - dependent of your editor - with a suitable opacity of around 50%. Now you can paint the picture in small, firm strokes - that way making it possible to undo as you go. Notice that every new stroke makes things lighter when applied on top of the previously applied strokes. If you feel it more convenient, you could start with a more saturated colour - and then reduce opacity later as you go.

Don´t forget to flatten layers in the end. I have a tendency to forget that. 

The above photograph is made this way. I think it´s a nice experience going through the process of colouring by hand. It gives me an even greater feeling of being in control - and the results would be impossible to reach with other techniques.