How to Recolor a Photograph in Photoshop

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Put some life back into any black and white photo using the color tools available in Photoshop CC. The process involves selecting areas that should have the same color and then essentially painting over the photo. One way to do this is to use the Colorize option in the Hue/Saturation Adjustment window. Another way is to hand paint the photo using a Brush Tool in Overlay mode. Use either of these approaches for different areas of the photo.

Step 1

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Open a black and white image in Photoshop. If you plan on cropping the photo, do that now. The Crop Tool is located in the Toolbox.

Step 2

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Click the Image menu and select Mode. Change the mode to any of the color modes, like Indexed Color, CMYK or Lab Color. For most photos, select RGB Color.

Step 3

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Drag the Background layer onto the New Layer icon in the Layers panel to duplicate it. Reduce the Background Copy Layer Opacity to about 50 percent.

Step 4

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Select an area in the photo to add the first color. For most selections, use either the Quick Selection Tool or the Magic Wand Tool. The Magic Wand Tool is best for selecting areas that have the same tone, like light flowers on dark leaves. The Quick Selection Tool is best for areas with well-defined lines, like a human face or arm. Use the Add To Selection icon in the Options bar to select different areas on the photo. Use the Subtract From Selection icon to remove parts of the photo that shouldn't be included in the selection. If you're unfamiliar with these options, read a primer on making and modifying selections in Photoshop.

Step 5

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Click the Image menu, select Adjustment and then click Hue/Saturation. Click the Colorize option and then drag the Hue slider to select the color you want for the selected area. Increase or decrease the Saturation and Lightness by dragging the sliders.

Step 6

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Click the Foreground Color icon in the Toolbox for a color you want to paint by hand. Select that color in the Color Picker.

Step 7

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Select the Brush Tool in the Toolbox after selecting the area that you want to color. In the Options bar, click the Mode menu and select Overlay. The Overlay mode adds color without affecting light and dark tone variations.

Step 8

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Paint over the selected area using the Overlay Brush. Keep the mouse button pressed until you have painted the entire selection. Releasing and pressing the mouse button a second time adds another layer of color, which can result in visible brush strokes and uneven color distribution. Adjust the Brush size as needed to paint in small areas that you can't select using the Magic Wand Tool or the Quick Selection Tool.

Step 9

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Increase the Background Copy layer's Opacity in the Layers Panel to 100 percent. Examine the entire photo to ensure that you haven't missed any area. If the photo contains some gray, like a weathered deck, for example, it may be hard to tell if you painted all the pixels around it or not. Pay particularly close attention to the colors around people's faces to ensure that you haven't let the background color bleed onto the face or let the skin color get onto the background.

Step 10

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Reduce the Background Layer opacity to between 15 and 30 percent, depending on the photo. Click the Image menu, select Adjustments and then click Vibrance. Drag the Saturation Slider to the right to increase the color saturation. After changing this, you may want to adjust the Background Layer opacity once again.

Step 11

(Image: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.)

Zoom in and out of the photo to be certain it looks the way you want it to. Go back and touch-up the color as needed. To colorize a large photo with a lot of detail, the process may take two or three hours.

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