kerry m halasz

my world in pictures and words

ever wonder what your ancestors looked like in color?

McDonell Donald and Patsy colored copy


McDonell Donald and Patsy copyIt’s hard to imagine, but the world did in fact exist in color prior to the 1940s.  No, really!  I’m not kidding.  Apples were red, grass was green, and the sky was orange.  At sunset, silly.

And those people that are hiding away in the shoeboxes stashed under your bed, they wore colorful, patterned clothing! I swear it’s true. I have a hard time envisioning it, too. But I have a fun and easy Photoshop tutorial for you to follow that will allow you see those grandparents and great aunts in full blown crayon box color.  Ready to start?

I’m going to assume here that you have some old photos scanned onto your computer.  If not, go ahead and do that.  Find a couple of black & white pictures, scan them at 300 dpi and oh, maybe 8×10 or 5×7, whatever you like.  Save as an RGB jpg to a file that you can find.  I’ll wait for you to finish…

Glad you’re back.  OK.  Let’s start.  This tutorial and any that I post will be created using Photoshop CS6.

Open your image. I like to make a duplicate and work on that in order to preserve the original. Do that, save it, and then close the original.  Take a good look at your image and make any adjustments such as levels, curves, contrast, etc.  When it looks good to you, it’s time to start painting!

We are going to add new layers for each part of the photograph that we want to color.  I typically begin with the hair. Create a new layer by clicking on the little layer icon at the bottom of the layer palette.  It looks like a piece of paper with a folded corner at the bottom.  Name that new layer “hair”. Change the layer style to “color” and set the opacity at around 40%. Select the brush tool (B on your keyboard) and choose a soft brush. Start with a size of around 70 pixels.  That will change depending on what you are painting.

Now, this is fun.  What color would you like the hair to be?  If you know what color Aunt Jenny’s hair was by all means find the brown or gray or yellow that is closest to your vision.  If you don’t know, just choose a hair color that will make her look gorgeous.  She would probably like that, anyway.  Jenny always did like to experiment with bottled hair anyway.

Choose your color from the color palette or click on the color picker which is accessed by clicking on the little black & white color boxes near the bottom of the tool bar. Now, make sure the brush is active and start painting over the hair.  See the color appearing?  If it’s too dark, you can lighten the opacity of the layer.  Too light, increase the opacity. I like to zoom in quite a bit on whatever detail I’m working on.  That makes it easier to stay in the lines.  If you make a mistake, select the eraser tool and erase it. And if you really mess up, just delete the layer and start over!

dadScreen ShotHere is a screenshot of an image I’m working on of my dad when he was in World War II.  She how I’ve painted his pants and boots?  It’s small, but if you squint you can see that the boots and pants each have their own layer.

Now, just keep adding layers and painting on whatever details you’d like to color in your photo.  The fun thing about doing it this way is that you can go back to each layer and change the color by adjusting the hue, or darken/lighten it to your heart’s content.

When you paint Uncle Ted’s skin, you can select a color by opening up a color photo of a person and use the eyedropper tool to select that skin tone.  Play around. It’s fun!

Once I color the eyes and lips and add a bit of color on the cheeks, my ancestors really come alive!  Not really alive, but you know what I mean.

I think this is the easiest way to “hand color” digital copies.  If you know of any others, please share!  I’ll leave you with a couple more pictures that I’ve worked on. I added a texture layer to the cowgirl shot.  That’s a fun thing to try, too.  Thanks for visiting!

cowgirl dreams copy

Marion McDonell Kelley colored copy




3 Responses to “ever wonder what your ancestors looked like in color?”

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