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Photography Question 

Adding color to B&W

I'm looking for a photo editing program that will allow me to add color to B&W photos. I'm looking to add color to some of my macro B&W flower and portraits. Any help or ideas on a good program that can put natural looking color into my pics would be great.


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10/20/2007 3:26:09 PM

Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  There are ways to handcolor images in Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, but these will not do that automatically if that is what you are suggesting. To maky it look natural is a bit of a challenge...If you want natural color in your B&W, why not shoot it in color?


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10/20/2007 5:06:59 PM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  Malachi, I think what Richard is suggesting is the following. Take you picture in color, edit it in a program such as Photoshop or Elements that allows you to work in layers. Duplicate the color photo in a new layer and then convert to B&W. Now you can either erase portions of the B&W layer or use a layer mask to mask it off to allow the natural color of the original photo to show through in selected areas.


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10/24/2007 10:35:13 AM

  Maiden float
Maiden float
© W.
Miscellaneous Does...

Like so.

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10/24/2007 1:29:10 PM

Malachi    Thanks for all the info. Any suggestions on a good book or tutorial on how to use the layers/masks to achive the effect in the photo posted in the response above.


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10/24/2007 2:54:25 PM

Here's your tutorial in 2 easy steps:

in Photoshop
1) desaturate your photo (so that it gets to be B/W)
2) select the history brush, at appropriate size, and 'paint' with it on your B/W photo


Everywhere you painted the color has returned!


Good luck!

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10/24/2007 8:42:54 PM

Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  If you want a simple solution WS has it right there, and William S. has essentially the same solution (and may be closer to what I'd suggest because of flexibility -- as you'll see in a moment).

Getting a good conversion to black-and-white may be a little more complicated than just desaturating, which is usually the worst means of B&W conversion...other methods include using Channel Mixer, and making custom conversions using layers, separations and possibly even Duotone mode. The History brush method can work, but some people may find using two layers and a mask more concrete and easy to follow.

What I meant in my original post was: if you are shooting in color in the first place, you already have the color to add back to the black-and-white, but colorizing is also an option. If you make a good black-and-white conversion, your steps should look like these (for Photoshop users, Elements users can do this a different way):

1. Open the color version of the image
2. Open the black-and-white version of the image
3. Position the images on screen so you can see them both.
4. Choose the Move tool (press V on the keyboard).
5. Hold down the Shift key, and click-and-drag the black and white version of the image into the color version. The shift key will keep the images aligned (so long as you have not cropped them differently or change the resolution).
6. Be sure the black-and-white layer is active, then click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers palette. This will add a mask to the black-and-white layer.
7. Change the foreground color to black, choose a brush (be sure the Options are set to Normal, Opacity 100%, and Flow 100%, you'll probably want a somewhat soft brush), check to be sure the mask is active, then paint over areas where you want to reveal the color.

That should do it. This technique uses the layer mask to reveal the color layer below. If you want a good book on Layers, I just happen to have written one! Have a look here:

The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book

I also teach a course here on betterphoto about layers (Leveraging Layers: Photoshop's Most Powerful Tool), but you may want to have some other background in Photoshop/Elements before taking that as it is my most advanced course. My Photoshop 101: The Photoshop Essentials Primer course is meant to be a solid introduction to the program.

I hope that helps!

Richard Lynch

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10/25/2007 3:04:53 AM

Richard is correct, of course. His way is, technically, the best way to do it.
My alternative m.o. is just a Quick & Dirty way. But a) it works, and b) it serves to demo the function of the history brush.

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10/25/2007 4:11:22 AM

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