Tag Archives: black and white photograohy

Hand-colored images with a digital kick in the butt

 In the last few years I have relaxing my ‘it’s analog, or it’s digital, ain’t nuthin in between’ rule.

I’ve been mixing things up in interesting ways. I’ve been calling them ‘hybrids’. 

Here’s a few analog darkroom photomontage prints I made years ago, hand colored, scanned ’em, and then gave ’em a digital kick in the ass. I came up some interesting results.

It’s not looking like Ektachrome yet, but it’s getting close.

Will it ever look like Kodachrome? That’s a pretty tough standard. I dunno. Still in progress, to be decided.

Here’s a couple of handcolored first, followed by digital colored images:






If you’d like to see how they work, here’s a  page for you, PSD file screen shots showing layers, and a small (3MB) PSD file you can download:


Here’s a really good tutorial:

Create a Hand-Colored Black and White Photo

Hope you picked up a few tricks!


Various techniques

 First of all, there’s one rule you should always follow – save a test strip or a scrap like the final print to test your colors and paper qualities. How do watercolors sink in? How workable are they? Can you apply watercolors smoothly without any uneveness? (Or do you need to wash the area w/ water first to make the color go down smoothly?

Do you need to prime the paper w/ linseed oil first, or not? Will the print take colored pencils? It would probably have to have some texture to take pencils.

Once you do these things, then you’re ready to go.  Or at least closer.

When I was doing assignment illustrations, I’d tape some tracing paper over the print, and use colored pencils to *make a plan*. I was after all on deadline, had to deliver the goods, lookin’ good and on time!

On my personal work these days, i always have a scan i can print out and attack w/ colored pencils. Sometimes I do several versions just to see how things work if i try something off the wall. I might also do some colorization w/ Photoshop before i make these prints, just large areas of relatively even color. Select an area, make a Hue-Saturation layer w/ it.

Another rule of thumb i firmly believe in is something an excellent graphic designer friend said to me many years ago: “Sometimes the best thing you can for a job is to walk away from it”. 

Make a plan, do a sketch, then put it aside for a day or two,  come back to it later – you’ll see things you hadn’t noticed before. You’ll perhaps have a Homer Simpson style ‘D’oh!’ moment. That’s actually a good thing, accept it.

When I first started hand coloring, i went by the book, primed the print w/ linseed oil, then Marshall Oils, then some Marshall pencils, if the surface took them. Kodak made a great matte/textured paper a long time ago, and Ilford still makes a fibre based matte paper, both very good. 

More recently i have started by doing some of the aforementioned planning (a scan i can print out and attack w/ colored pencils) and do some watercolors first, to small details, and sometimes to larger areas. For the details, i don’t soak it w/ water first, for larger areas, i soak them w/ water that’s got a drop or two of photo-flo in it (in a 1/4 cup water) – for even smooth distribution of color.

The paper i have found and used most recently is made by Foma with a matte surface that isn’t as matte as i expected. It has some interesting qualities, one of which is that watercolors are rather ‘workable’. It doesn’t need a linseed oil priming.

If you do a linseed oil priming, apply evenly over the whole surface, and wipe off the excess w/ a paper towel or toilet paper. Let it sit for a few minutes or so.

Wipe it off again – You are *priming it* not soaking it, OK?

Here’s an example of a sketch/test, and a final. (The final is on a different print, i made several variations.)



Here’s an example of trying two different approaches, the final is a combination of the two:



Here’s a couple of examples of ‘water color first, then oil color’:



Here’s a bunch of other ‘how to’ links i gathered some time ago, hopefully they will still be there:






A Good step by step how-to page here.

I like the last sentence on the page:

“Some images ask for and require more colors and detail than others and the challenge often is knowing where and when to stop.  Depending on the image, where and when to stop usually becomes obvious, the image says ‘enough already”. 

That’s the ticket, It’s that simple.

But his colorization of the golden gate bridge is all wrong – everyone who lives here knows that ‘red/orange’, and it’s not a screechy orange, it’s a red orange, muted a bit. And the vegetation/trees should all be darker. I’ve passed this way thousands of times, and the color just is not right.




A  good how-to RE colored pencils:




Very nice stuff, and an e-course on the topic.

Hope you’ve learned a few things!

I like to quote ‘Ah-nold/the Terminator’:

“Ah’ll be back” – his best line.