Colorization Using Photoshop CS 2 or CS 3

Colorization is important technique in photography – especially if you like photo restoration. I know that photo restoration contains many things, not only colorization – but colorization is one important aspect in photo restoration. Colorization is important to restore color of monochrome old photo (black and white, sepia, etc).

Actually colorization process is an imagination technique – why I said this ? – as you know if you have b&w photo and wanna to make it become color photo, you need to know the original color. But how to know the original color based only b&w photo ?  no way to know the original color so I think it based on your imagination – that’s why I said that colorization is an imagination technique. Since it is an imagination technique so everyone should produce different color photo based on their imagination.  I think the other important aspect of colorization is style – different people should have different style or taste. It is similar with this case: I like fried chicken but you like baked chicken – although the source material is same (chicken) it will produce different taste depends on cook style. This concept is important for tutorial steps I write below.

The original photo can be seen below (small size), for large size you need to download the original photo in this link – only registered can download the file. Photo is taken by Marjolein H. – why I choose this photo? the reason is because I participate retouchpro colorization contest on November 2008. There are some color information (from that you need to obey such as hair: brown; eyes: green; dress: creamy yellow with black polka dots; necklace: black; earring: gold; background: your choice to work with the colorized image.


My colorization steps:

0. Change image mode to RGB mode

Step 0 is necessary when the image isn’t in RGB mode.

1. Adjust contrast & brightness

You can do this step with many ways such as level, curves, or brightness&contrast. In this photo some parts are too bright but the other parts are too light so you need to combine different adjustment with masking. The example can be seen below.

First adjustment: (reduce exposure for overall image)


Second adjustment: (reduce exposure only for face area) – using masking


Combination of 1st and 2nd adjustment:


2. Change hair color

In order to change hair color you can use brush and pick your foreground color for example: (black, brown, red, etc). Start with low opacity maybe about 30%, after finish change layer blend mode into color. If the color is too much you can reduce layer opacity. You can see example below.

Brush the hair:


Change layer blend mode into color:


3. Change dress color

The same way with hair color – from color information dress should be yellow with black polka dots. Example can be seen below.

Brush the dress:


Change layer blend mode into color:


4. Change skin color

In this steps I don’t want do the same technique with step 2 or 3 because I want to change the skin overall. It means not only the skin but also hair, dress, necklace, earring, and background. This steps can save your time although you need to adjust it correctly. What you need to do is make a curve adjustment layer.

Curve adjustment layer (bow curve):


Curve adjustment layer (S curve):


But why curve doesn’t change skin color? seems it only change contrast and brightness. The reason because what we have done before is changing curves only in RGB channel . In order to generate skin color, you need to change 4 curves: RGB channel, red channel, green channel, and blue channel. You can see my setup example below.

Curve for RGB channel:


Curve for red channel:


Curve for green channel:


Curve for blue channel:


Skin Color Result:


5. Change lips color

You can use same technique with step 2 or 3 – or maybe you can try with curve (step 4). In lips area, I like to change layer blend mode into soft light – see example below.

Brush the lips:


Change layer blend mode into soft light, adjust opacity 80% :


6. Final Adjustment

Final adjustment is needed to make our image better – I think hair color and dress color is too much so I go to hair and dress layer and set the opacity into 20-30% and add warm color to make it more realistic. You can add warm effect by using photo filter and choose warming filter (LBA) and set density about 25-30% until you satisfied with the result. The result can be seen below.


You also can change the background color (use same technique with step 2 or 3), you can see the example below. In my final photo for retouchpro contest I decided not to change background color because I like the above result more.


Because of the contest rules, I need to crop the image exactly 800 pixels high and 600 pixels wide. In addition, minor photo retouching also permitted so I retouch the skin without lossing the skin pore to make it realistic. I also retouch the eye part, make it sharpen, brighter and change the eye color into green. I don’t want to remove flying hair in the face because I think it’s interesting to keep a little bit imperfection in the image. In the end don’t forget to remove the noise.  About retouching part you can refer my other tutorial here. Comparison between before colorization – after colorization – after retouch can be seen below.


Final result (600×800): zoom for better view


I also make wallpaper from this photo  :))


Finally we finish colorizing b&w photo – comments, suggestions, critiques are welcome, I will reply it as soon as possible. I am sorry for retouching part I don’t give the detail in this tutorial – especially about skin texture – I hope it will be written in the other tutorial. :))

Anyway, I have special promo for Outdoor Pre-wedding Service from 2012 Feb, 1 st – July, 31 st . If you’re interested, just click HERE.

9 thoughts on “Colorization Using Photoshop CS 2 or CS 3

  1. Pingback: Skin Color Correction Using Photoshop CS 2 or CS 3 « Just about Photography

  2. Pingback: All About Adobe Photoshop. » Blog Archive » Colorization Using Photoshop CS 2 or CS 3 « Just about Photography

  3. Pingback: Shadow Recovery of Backlight Problem « Just about Photography

  4. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my friend were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a book from our area library but I think I learned better from this post. I am very glad to see such fantastic information being shared freely out there..

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