Tutorial: adding color to black and white

by Fred Showker
Please Help Add Color To White Object!

A reader posted this problem to the Photoshop 911 Emergency room:

quoting I want to make the white hats in this pic a dark blood red, but EVERY single option I tried just turns them light pink or a light color. How in the world can I make them dark red but still retain their shading?? I tried color replace tool, i tried changing the entire pic red and adding a layer and color iso. I am not an expert so any help is very appreciated. thanks! here is the link to the pic end quote

A layer set to Multiply

This photo has some problems in fulfilling this technique because there is no real modeling in the 'white' hats the reader wants to convert to red. However, understanding those limitations, it can be done.

change mode to color Since this is a grayscale photo, the first thing to be done is converting the image > mode to RGB or CMYK. You'll need a color space to work in -- pick the one that best suits your final output.

It's very simple ... create a new layer to receive the red paint. In this diagram, we just pulled a rectangular marquee and filled it with red for the demonstration. Then just set the layer blending mode to "Multiply"...

creating a layer for the red color

set layer blending mode to multiply

Observe what happened. The hat and surrounding area turned red.

I set the tutorial in this order to demonstrate the Multiply mode. Now, we obviously need to cut out the red in the shape of the hat. There are a dozen ways to do this -- but the most simple and direct is to use the Lasso tool (tap L) and outline the hat very carefully, then (Select > Inverse) invert the selection so the background is selected on the red layer, and delete.

Trim out the hat

However, you see the results are not what you might expect. It really doesn't look like a red hat. That's because there is no real shading or modeling in the hats in order to give them contour and actually look like hats once you've finished coloring all of them. Additionally, you'll note that the brilliant white hats in this old black-and-white photo caused a degree of lens flare. The white seems to bleed off the edges of the objects causing a halo effect. So a little white bleeds beyond the edge of the cap. This would also need to be fixed.

trying to create the illusion of curvatureIn attempting to give the hats a little more realistic look, I've added a touch of shadow to the sides -- using a large, soft brush, and painting outside the selection allowing just a faint amount of the black to shade the edges of the hat. Then used a small, very soft eraser, set to 30% Opacity to remove some of the red down the middle to suggest a highlight. Still the results are less than spectacular.

Lesson learned We've learned that the Multiply blending mode of a Layer is a good way to colorize an object while integrating that color into the background image. However, we've also learned that in an extreme black and white photo where the whites are burned out, it's very difficult to put color back in and have it look realistic.

Alternately, you would have to recreate each hat, from scratch, in RED colors, simulating a real hat -- a technique that would take considerable time and Photoshop skill to create a convincing image.

Hope this helped!

Thanks for reading

Fred Showker

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On June 12th, Fidelia said:

That saves me. Thnkas for being so sensible!