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Add a pop of color to your black and white photographs

Black and white photographs have an artistic flair that other photographs do not possess. Don’t get me wrong, all photography, when taken properly, has a draw for the eye, but there is something with a black and white that really makes people go wow. Yet, there are times when you will need to add a bit of color to a photographic image to really make a point. Here is a simple tutorial of how to properly use Photoshop with black and white images.

Step One: Import your image

When you add your image to Photoshop, ensure that you import the raw format if possible. Do not use a JPG as this is already compressed. Using lightbox or photoshop, adjust the black and white until you are happy with the composition. Once this is done save your project.

Step two: Finding your color

While it may seem obvious that you will need to know which color to use on your black and white, it may not be as easy as it seems, especially if you are adding color to something which has emotional associations. For example, if you have an extreme close up of a woman’s lips and you want to add color to those lips, using red, blue, green, blown, will give off a very different emotional vibe. For the best results, try to find an image (stock images will do) which has the color that you seek. Using the eyedropper tool find out the Hex code for the color.

Step Three: Coloring

There are several, and I mean a ton, of ways in which you can color a black and white. Some prefer to use the color overlay, others use masking. I have found that the best way in which to colorize a black and white photograph is to make a selection with the pen tool and then to isolate the pixels. Make sure that you are on a new layer when you do this, using the section of the picture as a guide for the layer (as there is nothing on the layer but you will see the photo underneath.

Once you have the pixels isolated, use a brush that matches the needs of the project and color in the selection. Because you have the pixels isolated, you will not paint outside of the desired area. This is extremely helpful if wish to paint shadows and details on the area. If you are stacking the colors, make sure that you make a layer for each color, isolating the pixels as needed.

Step Four: Opacity

Obviously, painting directly on a photograph, even with layers, will result in a loss of detail. No matter how well you paint, it will appear as a blob of color on the photograph if you do not adjust the opacity of the color being used. Here is where there is a little bit of artistry involved. When you adjust the opacity, you will also adjust the overall color of the photo. So while you may wish to have a neutral red for the lip example, it may be necessary to use a fire engine red with a low opacity to pull off the look that you want.

Step Five: Blending

Once you have finished the coloring and getting the opacity right. The last step is to make the picture flow together nicely. Too many people stop at the colorization of the image and fail to make a continuity between the black and white space and the color. This leaves a definitive ax mark on where the two meets.

To minimize the “photoshopped” look use an eraser tool with a soft edge setting. Lower the opacity of the eraser brush to around 50% or so. Zoom in on the edges of your color selection by hitting control +. Very carefully go around the edges and blend the color and the black and white together.

Too many steps: Here is the 2 minute way to color a photo

This is not meant for professional work, but it does work for the quick colorization of an image.

  1. Import your black and white
  2. Make a new layer and call it color. Fill it with the color that you want to use. Hide the layer
  3. Go back to your main layer and select the area you wish to color
  4. Hit the inverse selection keys
  5. Turn on the color layer and press delete
  6. Lower the opacity of the color layer until you can see enough detail on the black and white

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