Hand-colouring of photographs first became popular in the 20th century, as a means of adding realism to black-and-white photos. Different types of paint were applied using fingers, brushes and swabs.
However, we can now achieve a similar effect in Photoshop and add colour to a black and white photo using the Brush tool. Whereas the traditional hand-painters only got one attempt, we can use layers to keep each colour separate and delete any hues we don’t like (to learn more about black and white photography, see our guide to what every photographer should know about monochrome).
We can also control the effects with Blend Modes and Opacity settings. Plus, we don’t need to worry about going over the lines, as brush strokes are easily erased and we can change colours after they’ve been applied.
Here’s how to get the hand-painted look…
How to add colour to a black and white photo
01 Digitise the photo
If you don’t own a scanner, attach your photo to a wall and illuminate it evenly with two lights placed either side of the image at a 45-degree angle. Use a tripod and shoot in RAW at the lowest ISO for maximum quality. Once you’ve uploaded the image, open it in Elements.
02 Quick Tidy
Go to Enhance > Auto Smart Fix to sort out the tones, then use the Crop tool to get rid of any borders. Next, click the Create New Layer icon and grab the Spot Healing Brush. Check the Sample All Layers box in the Options bar. Paint with the tool to repair any marks or spots.
03 Set up layers
Hold Alt and click the Create New Layer icon to access the New Layer box. Name the layer ‘red top’, then click the Mode dropdown menu and choose Color. Press OK, then grab the Brush tool and choose a realistic red shade for your foreground colour.
04 Provide colour
Paint over a subject’s clothing to add colour. When you’re done, go to the Opacity slider at the top of the Layers panel and set it to about 60%. Repeat the process for other people in the shot. Use a separate layer for each garment. Vary the colours and name each layer appropriately.
05 Add skin tone
Try using different shades for darker or lighter areas of skin, to give the effect more depth and realism. Next, colour people’s hair, eyes and lips, as well as the photo’s background. Experiment with each layer’s Opacity slider to control the intensity of each colour.
06 Tweak your work
If you want to change colours, highlight a layer and hit Cmd/Ctrl+U. Use the Hue slider to make tweaks. Then highlight the top layer in the Layers panel and click Create Adjustment Layer. Choose Photo Filter and set Filter to Warming Filter (85). Move the Density slider to 25%.