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Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

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Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  WJPalmer on Mon Oct 19, 2015 3:30 pm

Lately I've been spending some time colorizing old historical photos. My first two projects have been images of homesteading ancestors of mine circa 1919 & 1915. It's an intriguing process given the new software I'm using. The most surprising aspect to me has been the discovery of new detail in each image that had gone unnoticed in B&W:

Colorized B&Ws
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  Mr. Digby on Mon Oct 19, 2015 4:09 pm

I've seen a fair bit of this on the internet in the last 18 months and its a really interesting - well, art, in itself I suppose. I always wonder what colours people choose to colour the b/w images, especially things like clothing. I notice that in your first pic there are two young women that both seem to be wearing shirts and skirts of the same pattern, so I'd make the assumption the colours of both were the same.

Is there a technical way to determine what the actual colour may have been from the tonal value of the b/w original? I would imagine there is software now that can scan and make fairly accurate estimates.

I find the colours in your two pictures a little intense - I know its fashionable to wash them out to make them look old though I don't know if this practice has any artistic merit.

But you have done a fantastic job on both images. I presume its the same house in both pics? Do you know its location?

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The other Martin - Charles Reille, le dernier Maréchal de France.

"Any hussar who has not got himself killed by the age of 30 is a jackass." - Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle, commander of Napoleon's light cavalry, killed in battle at Wagram 6 July 1809, aged 34.

"I had forgotten there was an objective." - Generallieutenant Mikhail Borozdin I
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  WJPalmer on Mon Oct 19, 2015 4:47 pm

As a gift a year or two ago I received an entire book of colorized Civil War photos, so the process does seem to be catching on. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. B&W carries it's own charm but adding color also has a way of making people seem more real. It can bring them to life in a way the B&W can't. I think there's room for both.

The location of each photo is captured in the Flickr maps below the images. The first image was taken on a farm near a very small central-Nebraska town (even today it has only a few hundred people), so the map location shown is only an estimate: I am in the process of locating it precisely using Nebraska (Buffalo County) land records. My great grandfather Berg was a Swedish immigrant and a tenant farmer. Showing true pioneer spirit, he came to America by himself at the age of 15 in 1880 and arrived, as he was fond of saying, "barefoot & red-headed." I have his "America Chest" in my home complete with lining paper that features a cameo of the Queen of Sweden. As for the picture, this was the family's last home before moving to the eastern Colorado plains in 1920 (mostly for the health of my great-grandmother, on the right). It didn't help, however, and she died within a year or 2 of this image. The two girls have similar, but not identical, fabric patterns. All the dresses were almost certainly homemade.

The second photo was taken about 100 miles east of where I live now and is of my grandmother's family (i.e., her parent's and siblings). She is second from the right and this is where she was born. The Flickr map location of this photo is accurate. I have made several trips to this place and made friends with the current owners. The old house is now gone, but carried its own, quite fascinating, ghost story that relates to a cousin who died suddenly in 1920 there while visiting from Oklahoma. As a matter of fact, I touched base with them just a few days ago and they related that the ghost is still active and they still see her 3-4 times a year -- in the new house constructed on the same site.  affraid

There's no way of knowing precisely what the colors should be, but you can get some clues if you know the film and manner in which the photo was developed. For example, old tintype photos typically were cast with blue filters, which meant that red would show up fairly dark and blues would be lighter. I don't have that info for either of these photos, so my interpretation is mostly guesswork. I did, however, do some research on clothing and fabric styles of the day in deciding what colors to use. If there's software that can precisely determine colors in black & whites, I'm not familiar with it -- but would be greatly pleased if it could be developed!
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  Mr. Digby on Mon Oct 19, 2015 5:17 pm

Thanks Ron, fascinating stuff.

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The other Martin - Charles Reille, le dernier Maréchal de France.

"Any hussar who has not got himself killed by the age of 30 is a jackass." - Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle, commander of Napoleon's light cavalry, killed in battle at Wagram 6 July 1809, aged 34.

"I had forgotten there was an objective." - Generallieutenant Mikhail Borozdin I
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  midgetmanifesto on Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:44 am

I don't think you can get a true colour from a B&W photo, without knowing a true reference colour of something in the film (an object that still exists and is known to have not changed). I remember reading something to that effect when I was trying to find a paint colour that matched dunkelgaub to paint up some german ww2 tank models.

Nice work on the photos. It's so startling to see the greens and reds pop up, you almost don't think they exist in the days of B&W.
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  King_Rufus on Sat Oct 24, 2015 11:52 pm

Really interesting stuff - is the software for this commercially available?
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  Mr. Digby on Sat Oct 24, 2015 11:55 pm

Reddit has a fantastic archive of colourised b/w photos. I have no idea how it's done!

https://www.reddit.com/r/ColorizedHistory

Had a look around and apparently all done by hand in PhotoShop:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2Srw245R7U


Last edited by Mr. Digby on Sun Oct 25, 2015 8:45 am; edited 1 time in total

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The other Martin - Charles Reille, le dernier Maréchal de France.

"Any hussar who has not got himself killed by the age of 30 is a jackass." - Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle, commander of Napoleon's light cavalry, killed in battle at Wagram 6 July 1809, aged 34.

"I had forgotten there was an objective." - Generallieutenant Mikhail Borozdin I
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  WJPalmer on Sun Oct 25, 2015 1:15 am

It is possible to do this kind of thing using Photoshop layers and layer masks or the Corel product, but the software I'm using now is called Coloriage by Akvis. It's about $95 and is quite a bit less labor intensive than using PS for the process. Actually, for the photo I'm currently working I'll use both Coloriage and then Photoshop to tone down the opacity to make the colors more subtle.
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  WJPalmer on Fri Oct 30, 2015 8:20 pm

Here's the latest colorized photo. This time I used Photoshop layers to tone down the colors, add a hint of sepia to the otherwise B&W, non-colorized areas, and went "artsy" by targeting only portions of the portrait for color. The idea here was to accentuate the subjects' eyes and add a bit of mystery by making the observer look close to see what's color and what's not. The Flickr album also contains the original to compare the "before" and "after."

1917 Nebraska Family Portrait
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  Mr. Digby on Sat Oct 31, 2015 10:33 am

I think my preference is for the fully coloured pictures. I have an issue with that picture and it took me a while to pin down what it was. I think its because you've only coloured the faces and some items of clothing near the faces. It looks a little... creepy is the best word I can think of. Everybody except the fair-complexioned lady far left has the same skin colour as well which is a rather yellowish tone so that adds to the strange mood of the image too.

Hope you do not mind the honest comments.

_________________
The other Martin - Charles Reille, le dernier Maréchal de France.

"Any hussar who has not got himself killed by the age of 30 is a jackass." - Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle, commander of Napoleon's light cavalry, killed in battle at Wagram 6 July 1809, aged 34.

"I had forgotten there was an objective." - Generallieutenant Mikhail Borozdin I
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  WJPalmer on Sat Oct 31, 2015 11:54 am

Hope you do not mind the honest comments.

Not at all. Much appreciated, in fact. And, of course, this being Halloween, creepy is in vogue. What a Face
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Civil War in Color

Post  WSH Baylor on Mon Dec 21, 2015 10:45 pm

Just this past weekend, the History Channel (Heroes channel?) ran a program called "Civil War in Color" which was exactly what you folks are talking about One of the best "colored" photos was the shot of Grant and his staff sitting on church pews which had been brought outside. They showed one of the three original photos which was really quite good.

Baylor
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Re: Latest Photography Interest: Colorizing Historical Images

Post  Volunteer on Sat Jan 23, 2016 9:54 am

WJP, always interesting to see your conversions. How about you restore these Grognards to their original glory?

http://mashable.com/2014/10/27/napoleonic-wars-veterans/#9xnDh.FUOkqw
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