Travel through time: Colorizing black and white photography

Delve into the bottom of your desk drawers or rifle through boxes in your attic, and you’ll almost certainly discover a heap of black and white photos from the past century. Imagine them lying there – sad, forgotten and slowly accumulating an extra layer of dust by the day. Don’t you think it’s time to give your old photographs a new lease of life?

A splash of color can make a tremendous difference to a photograph or video – it somehow makes them relatable, tangible and seemingly more recent. The colorization of photographs is a process that has been around for a while, but it’s only in recent years that it’s really taken off.

With the use of photo editing software, you can bring beloved photographs of family and friends back to life. Thanks to photo colorization, you can now look at snaps of relatives you never had the opportunity to meet, and imagine what it would’ve been like to stand in the same room as them.

It’s easy to disassociate ourselves from the scenarios that take place in black and white photographs. If you were to see colorized images of historical milestones such as the 1st and 2nd World War or the introduction of women’s suffrage, then it may change the way that you were to perceive those moments in time. Stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and James Dean were preserved in grayscale during their heyday.

When we close our eyes and imagine celebrities from the early twentieth century, we see a grainy black and white image staring back at us, such as that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe where she stood over a subway grate in New York. With the recent popularity of colorizing images, it’s now possible to see what these celebrities/moments in time would’ve looked like, were we actually there to witness it.

How easy is it to colorize photographs?

Colorizing photographs is not as difficult as you may think. You can give it a go yourself with the help of easy-to-use photo editing software. However, photo colorization does require a lot of time and patience. First, you will need to choose a suitable photograph to enhance – perhaps it’s a rare picture, one with historical value or simply a picture that’s amusing, and that you believe would be even more interesting in color. This YouTube tutorial from the Photoshop Video Academy provides a helpful step-by-step guide on how to colorize images using Photoshop.

If you don’t have the time to colorize photos yourself, why not employ the help of a professional? There are many people out there who make a living from colorizing black and white photographs. Naturally, the cost varies depending on the size and complexity of the original image.

Marina Amaral is a Brazilian colorist who has recently become well known for her incredible work. She takes great care when it comes to enhancing and colorizing images. In fact, colorizing photos is not as simple as just adding a bit of color to the image, as there are so many elements that come into play.

Marina can spend several months colorizing just one image. She takes the time to research the event and analyze every object so that she can accurately preserve that moment in time. Her impressive portfolio is brimming with jaw-dropping imagery. Take a look at her website and discover colorized photos of Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, King George V and other historical figures.

Researchers from the University of California have recently developed a new software that can colorize a black and white image. This innovative algorithm has a bank of over a million color images stored in its hard drive, based on this knowledge it can scan through its extensive memory and select the most plausible shades to colorize a picture. This software isn’t necessarily accurate, however, it is incredibly clever. It also requires absolutely no work from your end – all you need to do is provide a URL of the black and white image and the software does the rest.

Example of colorized image using
Example of colorized image using
Example of a colorized image using

The colorization of photography is something that can satisfy the craving that many people experience to witness history firsthand. Whichever way you choose to colorize your treasured photographs, it’s certainly worth doing. Don’t you think that image of your great grandparent’s wedding would look even better in color?

That way you can see the pink hue in your great grandmother’s cheeks as she’s kissed by her husband on the happiest day of her life. This creative process can bring people a little closer to achieving that unattainable desire of stepping into a time machine and whizzing back to a different century.

Those interested in digging this topic can quench their thirst for colorized photography with these two subreddits dedicated to the colorization of black and white photographs and to high-quality colorization of historical black and white images, and discussions of a historical nature.

Finally, a book recommendation*: Check out this collection of over 200 colorized photos, originally taken in black and white by Dorothea Lange in the United States, in between 1935 and 1939. Click on the image below to check out the book on Amazon:

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