What makes a re-colouring a photo really work?
I’ve talked about colouring before but with advanced colouring techniques combined with various blend modes, it makes the colouring process look realistic and not fake.
Simply put, adding a layer of colour over part of a photo, only colours it. We don’t want that to happen. We don’t want to just “add” colour to the photo, this will make it look very flat. We want to make the photo alive! Below is an example of a flat colour versus varied colour. This is a small crop from a photo I coloured from Shorpy (dot) com
Using just a few colours leaves a very illustrative look to the photo. It looks like it has been washed over with dense watercolour. Using many different shades can mean it takes 10 times as long to do but you will end up with much better and more realistic results. One method to help add more colour in varied random shades is to create a layer of “render clouds” of two colours. This is perfect for creating natural shifts in colour shades, for tree bark or leaves or skies and ground etc.
Add some random colour.
You can see here two examples of the shades I used for the two main sets of leaves. The left corresponds to the leaves on the ground to the left of the final image. The right half refers to the leaves in the tree top right. (see the end of the post for final image)
This technique of using multiple colours within the one layer is a clever way of saving time without compromising quality. For example, you could use a colour graduated fill layer of three shades, red, orange and green. These can be used to colour the leaves of the tree or similarly use three shades of blue for the sky. By making sure you switch blend modes to the one that works best, you’ll get the best results, there is no set rule. Use trial and error, but modes like, soft light, overlay and colour burn are some that work well.
Planning the colouring before you start is a good idea. For example for this image, I chose a fresh green for new plant growth and grass and an olive colour for older greenery and a straw-like shade for the dry grass.
Once you have the entire image filled with lush hues, think about the time of day it was shot. If the shadows are long the sun is lower in the sky. This means it is very likely the sun was a warmer tone than midday. Add some yellow or orange warmth to the lighter areas. Try a weak “photo tint” or layer to warm it up.
Take time over it, there are no short cuts or one button wonders. Take an area or object and colour it. Make it the best you can. If you lose interest, save your work and come back to it. Maybe leave it a day and then revisit the work, it always looks different on fresh eyes! Good luck. For more on all the different colouring techniques see colouring a black and white photo