Photo Magic: Tinting or Colorizing a Photo

Photo Magic: Tinting or Colorizing a Photo

Before and after photo restorations are striking. A fantastic “after” photo is emotional, compelling, beautiful, and a bunch of other adjectives that highlight the emotions you may feel when you first look at the image. Do you know what’s even better? Taking a black and white or browntone photo and adding a pop of color in it. Seriously, there is nothing more magical than tinting or colorizing a photo.

The art of hand-coloring photography has been around since the advent of photography. Photographers would hire artists to add color to their images with oils, pastels, paints, and other mediums to give their photography a realistic feel. When color photography became widespread in the 1950s, hand-coloring photos slowly fell out of fashion.Today, people love antique hand-colored photography and tend to value those pieces in their personal collection.

You can still get that hand-colored embellishment on your photo restorations, even if your original was black and white, browntone, or sepia. Depending on the photo, you may choose to tint or colorize your image.

Tinting Vs. Colorizing

These are two very different techniques. Colorizing a photo means adding color to the entire image. You turn a non-color image into a full color image. Tinting a photo means adding a hint of color to suggest the colors in a pleasing way. This method lets your brain do the rest of the work when you view the photo. 

Tinting is usually preferred over colorizing. Adding full color to an antique image can look a little cartoonish and freaky. The skin tones can look bluish or gray as the black and white or browntone fights to come through the color. With colorizing, you have to work hard to get past the influence of creating a reality with full color, and this process forces the antique photo into a century into which it doesn’t belong. Tinting is a little more natural and authentic to the original craft. Colorizing works wonders, however, on faded color photographs. It looks natural because the photo was once full color.

Remember this beautiful woman? We transformed her black and white photo into a color portrait. Our client loved it so much that they decided to create one for their father, her husband. Even though the photos were different, we were able to create a hand colored portrait of this gentleman that matched his wife’s portrait. The two photos were made three years apart, but they look like a matching set created at the same time.

Tinting or Colorizing a Photo

Tinting or Colorizing a Photo

Personal Taste

In our studio, both tinting and colorizing are still done by hand. There are programs and algorithms that will instantly add color to an image, but with that software, you get what you get. These computer generated colorizations are rarely as perfect as promised online and are not as customizable. Some people are fine with this and enjoy their photos regardless. To that we say, “Rock on.” For those that want a little more control and finesse with their images, we would encourage you to visit a pro. 

Because we add color by hand, the way artists used to, we are able to work with our clients to deliver what they want. You are able to control the vibrancy of the color, remove shadows, change eye color, and more. The process is a little easier if we have a color photo for reference, but with detailed notes, we can add color and get it right on the first try (almost every time).

In this project, our client wanted to add color to black and white sketches of their children. They liked the artwork, but they didn’t want these large pieces on their walls. Mary Lou reproduced the sketches and added color to each image. She reduced the size of each sketch and put them in an ornate metal leaf frame. The end result is beautiful. Our client went from liking the artwork to loving it, and they can easily enjoy it in their home.

Tinting or Colorizing a Photo

Whether or not you want to add color is up to your personal taste. Some of our clients prefer to leave their photos in their original style, just the way they remember it. Other clients prefer to have the best of both worlds. We will restore the original black and white, browntone, or sepia photograph as well as a tinted or colorized version. They’ll use one image for a family wall and the other for something else.

Tinting or colorizing a photo can make all of the difference to an image. We have seen clients become visibly moved by the lifelike restoration of their family photos. Whether you decide to add a little bit of color or enjoy the restored image in its original form, we know you’ll love the final piece.

If you’re interested in learning more about photo restoration, check out our guide to photo restoration.