colorizing photographs

This week I tried my hand at a few different photographs to see how it went and what I needed to improve on. Coloring the foreground is getting easier, but realistic backgrounds are very tough for me.

Case study one:

I tried to colorize and “hydroplane” that was taken about 300 feet from my office 100 years ago. The The plane was a treated fabric that would have been a shiny grey. Getting the aircraft into that color was pretty hard, an I do not feel like I nailed it.

The second problem is that the photograph’s background was the Potomac river and the Maryland Shore. The detail of the water was almost gone in the photograph, and just painting it blue did not work. Also, the trees on the shore looked goofy and cartoonish. So I took a photograph of mine at that spot and used the color, texture and trees to restore that part of the photograph. I did make the water a little more blue than my photo just to reinforce the water look.

Case study two.

I found another photograph that had a lot of components, Including Marines, civilians, cars and a cannon being drug through the street. Again, the background seemed to be the hardest part. I think I got the color of the clothing correct and the vehicles, but the dirt street and trees in the background still seem off. I played with gradients and opacity, but I’m still not happy. It looks like one of those colorized postcards from the 1940s.

I am trying to practice, and this is still a lot of fun. I probably should spend less time on this and more time on my project site.

For the second photo, I don’t think I did too much to hurt historical accuracy. The hydroplane has made me ponder if what I did was okay. I think I would need to be honest about what I did before I tried to publish it as historical evidence for anything. I tried to make sure that the conditions were the same, and I don’t think the river environment in Maryland has changed so much that I was introducing a terribly new shoreline. I felt that the trees and water was too important to not introduce.

I would love to know what everyone else thinks about the hydroplane. From last week’s discussion I get the feeling that it might be a good topic for debate, if anybody even reads this this week.


I posted comments on the following blogs: Claire’sPearl’sTheana’s, and Kim’s.



About Kater

I work at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

3 responses to “colorizing photographs”

  1. Goatherd says :

    If we have time tonight, I’ll tell you about the enlightening conversation I once had with an Army guy about the difference between maps and charts…..

    I think you’re struggling because you’re attempting to impose a color that does not exist in river water. Oceans and lakes appear to be blue because they are (in large part) reflecting the sky. Rivers and lakes/ponds with suspended particulate matter are going to have shades of grey, brown, and green. Look again at your kayak photograph. I see hints of blue, but mostly a grey-green color. My personal opinion is that less blue in both water and sky would make the hydroplane stand out a bit better.

    I’m working on an image taken on the southern US border, and haven’t even touched the landscape yet. I think that getting natural earth surfaces right may be the toughest part of a colorizing job.

    I share your hesitance over using a colorized image. I think it’s a matter of the right place/time and clear documentation of what has been done to the original image.


  2. Ann-Marie says :

    I think your first attempts at colorized images are great! Practice definitely makes perfect, but I think you one-upped most of us with all these colorized photos you’ve already done. It’s great how we see your process of colorizing too, and the end results are very aesthetically pleasing! I think colorized images are super fun and great to look at, but I would hesitate using them as hardcore evidence as well.


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  1. Week 8: Colorizing photos – Rumen Nation - March 28, 2016

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