Colourize black and white photos

Breathe new life into your old images with colourizing

To colourize a black and white photo is to digitally add colour to images that could not be captured by the monochrome photographic process of the time. When done properly, this can bring old black and white photos to life with colour, by accurately recreating the subtle hues and tones present in the original scene.

Many websites and online services claim to be able to recolour your images in just a few clicks. But don’t be fooled. Quality photo colourization requires considerable experience, manual dexterity, and painstaking detective work to ensure good results. When required, I will seek expert advice and consult both online and offline reference sources to ensure historically accurate colour references are used. For your own photos, this may mean asking relatives to recall details of a subject’s hair or eye colour, complexion or clothing.

Quality colourization is well worth the investment

With modern photo editing software, it is fairly easy to colour a photo. It is much harder to do it well. Here at Image Restore, I am proud on producing some of the most realistic colourized photos on the web. Your old photos are coloured with as much care, attention and time as required to achieve a realistic result. For example, where others might simply brush on layers of uniform colour over large areas of an image, I use advanced blend modes and multiple overlapping layers to build up varied, realistic hues. This attention to detail (or lack thereof) is clearly visible in the final result and particularly noticeable when comparing complex textures such as vegetation or facial features. See my blog post advanced colouring techniques to learn more. See additional examples of my colourized photos below and in the colourized images gallery.

Sample 1: Mason’s Island 1861 Washington DC – Guards at ferry landing

To colourize a black and white photo properly, it requires more than simply applying a few layers and brushing with a colour. A considerable amount of historical research was required to accurately colourize this image from 1861, but the result was well worth it. Known uniform colours from American history allowed for ease of colouring and the new buildings across the water kept the colours of roofing shingles and bricks to muted colours. Colouring every detail, down to the last chimney or the aged lichen clinging to the tree trunks, is important to draw the viewer’s eye through the image.

Sample 2: A working barge on the Leeds Liverpool canal near Mather Lane Mill

For the colourization of this image, precious advice from The Liverpool and Leeds Historical Society and customer knowledge were used to ensure historical accuracy. References from barge construction and decal painting manuals were used. Google Maps Street View was used to guide the selection of brick colours and special attention was paid to water reflections to create the most lifelike image. The final ambience was completed with an early morning sky to accompany the light morning haze.

Sample 3: Railway Embankment near Arlington, New Jersey 1900

Knowing the location where a photo was taken can greatly assist with how to colourize a black and white photo. For this project, I researched local rock and soil composition to ensure accurate tones for the embankment and road surface. I examined fallen leaves and researched local tree species to obtain accurate information for the bark and seasonal colours of the young Red Oak tree to the left, and every tuft of grass was individually coloured. Despite considerable research efforts, I was unable to positively identify the locomotive so opted for a neutral colour as a safe bet.

Neil kept me informed every step of the way whilst colouring two wedding photos, one from 1950 and the other a very ancient one from 1913! The results were just wonderful and I wouldn’t trust anyone other than Neil with old photos or negatives that you would like to see brought back to life. 5 stars every time.

Valerie Phillips

Colourization examples and prices

To keep things simple, I offer 3 convenient fixed price colourization categories: Basic, Medium and Complex. For extremely large or very complex projects, I will provide you with a customised quote. All projects are based on how much work goes into each image. I will always confirm pricing with you prior to commencing any work so that you know what to expect at billing and will provide you with a digital proof by email to ensure you are happy with the result. For a full list or prices see the photo restoration prices page.

£25 Basic colourizing

  • One or two figures with a simple background
  • Simple backgrounds, no complex patterns or flowers

£40 Medium colourizing

  • 2 to 3 figures
  • some background objects
  • more complicated details or patterned clothing

£60 Complex colourizing

  • up to 6 people
  • complex backgrounds, flowers, vehicles and patterns
  • intricate details

£60+ Very complex colourizing

  • 6 figures or more
  • crowds, school panoramas or military photos
  • very busy and complex scenes i.e. shop interiors
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