Colour references and accuracy when colouring old photos is an essential part of a successful project. When colouring any photo use research to ensure what colours you add are accurate and in keeping with the period, location and time of year.
In a railway photo I coloured the location was known before starting. Knowing the location helped with researching the local rocks. This then enabled me to colour the soils and rocks as best I could for that location. It not only makes the photo look more natural but is more accurate.
It is not always possible to get colour information about a scene. To tackle this make initial judgments based on what the subject is or the season the photo was taken in an approximate year. Look at images of clothes in museums, or watch films set in the same period to get colour ideas. Old postcards can be used as references, look at those that are already hand coloured, they make a great starting point.
Use Google maps, street view or satellite view to get an idea of what trees or colours might be around. Buildings will give clues as what materials were used and therefore useful colour clues. When no references are available then you can make educated guesses. For clues, dark tones are likely to be darker or more saturated colours and vice versa.
Old photo of a couple in the woods, coloured.
In the below photo the tree foliage is Alder so I chose my colour palette based on those tree colours.
The clothes were coloured using muted wool dye colours of the period. You will not be adding neon orange socks to 1900’s portrait photo. Using known colours that were used in dyes around the time the photo was taken is good way of keeping it accurate. We have no true way of knowing what the actual colours may be but tweeds and woolen suits, or thick woolen skirts tended to be muted colours.
Coloured photo of swimmers at Belle Isle 1903
This next image of swimmers was something more challenging.
In this photo research on other modern photos of swimmers in the water around jetties came in useful. This was a good starting point for the water and reflections I’d expect to see and how the colour played on the ripples. The skin was coloured based on observations. Their feet are more blueish pink due to being cold from exposure to the water. Boys are always outside and in this case has faces and hands tanned by the sun but their arms and back and legs are not so exposed and more pale.
For the swimsuits, I had to search for “boys swim fashion 1900’s” on the web. Not a great deal of useful info here but some clues to colours. Curiously in the photo there are a handful of swimsuits in use by all the boys and few suits cobbled together. This made colouring slightly more simple as I could colour the same suits the same colours.
Some trees are silver birch and the wooden jetties are sun bleached hardwood. Other colours were based on postcards and internet searches on the “Belle Isle” .
Once we have all the colour information it is just a matter of colouring the photo. Sounds simple!. You’ll find plenty of references on the blog on how to colour photos if you want to have a read. Search colouring photos