For my most recent colourising piece I chose this photo by the Danish American photographer and social reformer Jacob Riis. Riis moved to the USA in 1870 and after a very hard start where he was destitut he started work as a carpenter before finally working for a newspaper. At the time photography was very much in its infancy with both lenses and emulsions being very slow and therefore not suitable to photograph in the dark slums. In 1887 however Riis discovered that flash photography had been invented via the use of flash powder.
Riis instantly realised the potential for flash photography and he with friends and colleagues Dr. John Nagle, Henry Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence set about photographing the slums and their inhabitants with the first photo being published in 1888.
This photo is from around that time and shows one of four pedlars who lived in the cellar of 11 Ludlow Street, rear, in New York.
You can view the original and my coloured version below.
I've become quite drawn to a lot of photos taken during the Great Depression in the 1930's in America and this particular photo entitled "Breakfast outside the Tacoma Commons Mission" was taken by Chapin Bowen. Colouring this one was more of a challenge than I thought it would be due to all the reflections in the windows. Not only did I have to try and work out what some of the reflections actually were but then had to layer up the different colours and work out the different opacity's so as to make them transparent enough to see the different things.
My colour conversion can be viewed below.
I'm currently working on a couple of other colourised photos which are proving to be be quite complex. To take a break from them I decided to colour this famous photo of a Navajo boy taken in 1906. The original black and white image is creased and a little faded but the addition of colour really adds impact to this striking young man. Whereas the original photo does look to be over 100 years old the colour version does make it feel like it was taken just the other day and makes the loss of whole Native American nations, culture and land all the more striking.
The photos can be viewed below
It's safe to say that I have been well and truly bitten by the colourising bug! At the moment I have a number of different photos on the go but each one is a deliberate choice to force me to learn new skills or work on specific processes. This photo is by far the most detailed and complex I've worked on so far. The shear amount of detail in this photo by Dorothea Lang is incredible and only really noticable when you zoom right in. Part of the challenge of this photo was all the signs on the shop as rather than just use colours I chose I wanted to make sure I used the actual colours that the signs used which meant researching every single one and trying to find a colour photo of each. Whilst I wasn't able to find an exact match for every sign for those that I didn't I did find similar signs which all used roughly the same colours.
I do have to say that if it wasn't for my new Huion H610 graphics tablet this photo would have been near impossible to have coloured and certainly not to the level of detail I managed to achieve.
You can view my full size colour conversion below.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working on a number of different old black & white photos that I am converting into colour. Each photo presents a new challenge and gives me something new to learn, experimenting with different colour pallets, blending modes and varying the opacity of various layer masks etc to try and produce a more natural looking result. This particular photo was taken in 1940 by Fred Morely during the Blitz and is supposedly of a milkman still on his rounds despite houses all around being bombed out. In actual fact the milkman was Fred Morleys assistant and not a milkman at all. Whilst the rest of the scene is entirely real, Fred borrowed the clothes and milkcrate from a real milkman and got his assistant to pose for the shot. The reason for taking the shot was quite simple. There had been nightly bombing for over a month by this time of the war and Fred knew that if he showed all the destruction of the Blitz in a negative way, it would never make it past the censors. Instead he staged this scene to demonstrate the maxim of "Keep Calm and Carry On".
You can see my colour version of this iconic photo below.
I'm currently working on a number of different colour conversions of old black & white photos, some famous images, some relatively unknown, but the one thing they have in common is that they generally are of a historic era in time. It was whilst searching through online archives that I came across this image of men eating bread and soup in a breadline during the Great Depression in the USA. To think that this happened in relative modern history and that just a few years later the world would be plunged into a second world war, the gaunt, filthy and dejected appearance of these men seems all the more shocking and even more so in colour.
My colour conversion can be viewed below.
Recently I've got more and more into colourising old black and white photos using Photoshop but have often found that using a mouse is quite cumbersome when it comes to making fine selections and 'painting' accurately. The obvious solution was to use a graphics tablet but which one? In the past, many years ago, I've owned two graphics tablets but never liked either of them. The first was a basic one, I think made my Trust but it was quite frankly rubbish and no better than using a mouse. This was partly due to the pen being very 'unpenlike' and unwieldy, partly due to the fact that the surface of the tablet was very shiny and so the pen just slipped over it and partly because it offered no varying levels of pressure, it was just on or off.
The second one I owned was a Wacom one. Now Wacom undoubtedly make some of the best graphic tablets going but they also cost a lot of money. Whilst this tablet was much better than the Trust one it was also tiny, so tiny that it was very hard to use accurately. With it being nearly 10 years since I last used a graphics tablet, how much had the technology come on and were Wacom still pretty much the old brand you should consider?
Over the past few weeks I've become more and more interested in colouring old historic black and white photographs but being a bit of a newbie to this technique I've been trying to learn how to make skin tones more convincing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, peoples skin isn't just one colour but made up of many different colours and shades. As I've learnt the key is not only identifying what colours to use but also how to blend them and apply so that they appear more realistic.
Thanks to a couple of tutorials I've read, whilst I certainly haven't mastered it, I now am starting to get a better understanding of how this works and have applied these techniques to an old American Civil War photo of Major General Ambrose Burnside.
Following a recent article on my website about colouring black and white photos I thought I'd have another go and found this photo of lunch carts on Broad Street in New York circa 1906. With lots of detail it was certainly going to involve a lot of masking and seeing as I ended up using 127 layers this was the most complex photo I've worked on so far.
As before I found the best result was to first convert the photo to CMYK instead of RGB. This photo was an interesting learning curve for me as I learned a couple of new skills about how to paint different layers of colours on top of each other and blend them together which is sometimes more accurate, natural looking and a faster way of working.
I have a few more photos in mind to work on next, one of which was taking during the Blitz but I think I will need to learn a couple more skills before I can complete these.
You can view a before and after of this photo below.
I was reading an article a while ago about how artists are now 'converting' old black and white photos to colour by colouring them in Photoshop and some of the examples I've seen are truly stunning. One of my particular favourite artists is Swedens Sanna Dullaway who famously coloured various photos of historic people in history from Abraham Lincoln to Anne Frank. I am a huge fan of black and white photography and so was a little sceptical at the idea of adding colour as often it's the ommission of colour that makes the photograph work in the first place. However I am also deeply interested in history and the ability to 'see' the world in colour long before colour film existed was a very interesting concept. So I thought I'd give it a go myself.