Adding colour back into a Photograph – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

One of my co-workers, John, received a Christmas card this week and asked me how he could replicate the image on the card. The image was a black and white photo with a colour Christmas wreath hanging from a bridge and a river running under the bridge in a pastel blue. This is easy to do using a few tools I have talked about it the past, layers, opacity and layer masks.

In both Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Photoshop, the process is almost identical, and very easy in both programs. Below are the instructions:

  1. Duplicate the background layer of your image. To do this, right click on the background layer in the layers palette and choose duplicate layer.
  2. In Photoshop – Create a channels adjustment layer and convert the image to black and white
    1. In Photoshop Elements – Convert the duplicate layer to black and white (CTRL-ALT-B) Create a layer mask on the black and white layer you created. You can install a utility to enable layer masks for Photoshop Elements here.
  3. With the layer mask selected, select a brush and pick the black colour from the colour selector.
  4. Next, set the opacity of the brush quite low, 10 or 15%. This will let you paint the colour back in to selected areas in small increments.
  5. Painting successively over the same area will paint the colour back into the image more and more with each successive stroke.
  6. If you restore colour to a selection of the image you still want to remain in colour, change your brush colour to white and paint back over the area you wish to remain in black and white.

The layer masks blocks the effect of the black and white layer, where you have painted black on the layer mask, the effect is blocked and as I already mentioned, setting the opacity of the brush lets you work in small increments for better control.

If you do not want to add the colour back in from the original image, but wish to paint your own colours in, then follow points 1 and 2 above then create a new layer and on that layer, again using a low opacity brush, paint the colours you want. One final step when painting this way is to change the blending mode of your layer to overlay which will make your colours transparent and let the image below show through your colour.

There are many ways in which you can uses these techniques. A little imagination and creativity can open up a new layer of your own photography.

Until next time, happy shooting.

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