hand coloring in lightroom

I’ve always loved hand-colored photos.   They have such a great look, very unique, very interesting.  For those who don’t know, “hand coloring” refers to any process where a photographer uses pigment, dye or paint of some sort to manually add color to a black and white photo.   Historically this was done in the 1800s by photographers using pigment and gum arabic on daguerreotypes!  The technique persisted in one  form or another throughout the years until it was supplanted by actual color photography.  Of course, just because it is no longer necessary to get color in such a way doesn’t mean it can’t be used for asthetic effect.

I shoot a lot of black and white film, which I generally scan and process in lightroom rather than wet printing.  Now if you’ve used lightroom, you are probably familiar with the brush tools for things like exposure, clarity or even skin smoothing.  However, the oft overlooked “tint” option can be used to easily paint in color to a black and white image for a “hand colored” effect.

let’s take this image.

This was shot on film (with a holga!) during a vintage pin-up shoot.  In other words, there is no actual color information in the file etc…

Now I’m going to hand color it to approximate the actual colors of the scene.  First we start by going into the lightroom brush tools.  Make sure all the adjustment sliders are set to zero (we are just painting on color here, not adjusting the photo itself)   Click on the tint box at the bottom right to bring up the color picker.

A little trick with the color picker is that if you hold the mouse button down you can drag the eyedropper out of the little selection window and  sample color from *anything* on screen.  One useful trick with this is to have a “reference photo” open separately and sample your colors for hand coloring from that.

Since the couch in this shot was a green color, I grab a nice rich green and begin painting my mask.  I find it more accurate to paint with the red overlay on (click “O” to toggle the overlay on or off).  You’ll want to use a separate mask for each area of color.  Here’s the green mask for the couch all done.

yeah, it’s not perfect, but close enough 🙂

I then do separate masks for her shirt (pink) and her skin.   With hand coloring, I like to leave a portion of the image uncolored which gives it it’s signature b/w+color look, different from “selective coloring”

and the final result:

Now this may be kind of a “niche” technique, and certainly not suited for all photos but it’s quick and easy and yields a very unique effect.  Overall it’s a nice trick to have in one’s toolbox.

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