Colorizing a hand tinted photo

Is it a major problem to color over a hand tinted photograph?  Say for example, you found this photograph, and you really wanted to colorize it using your own color palette:


Would it be a crime attempting to remove the original color?

No.  First, make sure it all the legal stuff has you in the clear (if the subject is a famous name, I would recommend leaving it alone), and then in Photoshop go to layer > new adjustment layer > black and white (for a helpful tip, on the layer, press auto)


From there, you should be good to go!  Sometimes the the colors used will wash out the image when you use the black and white layer.  Carefully tweak the levels and if that doesn’t work, very carefully try Levels/Curves layer.

If you have a problem with your color levels cooperating – after turning it black and white, flatten the image and then drop it into an entirely new file and see if that works.  Or you could just do that anyway, lol.  There are times Photoshop wants to read the old colors and won’t adjust to the new color you ask for.  Making it black and white gives the program no choice.

Hope this helps!


Hand tinting in the 1940s?

With the popularity of Captain America and Agent Carter, I’m sure the urge to restore photographs from that decade is strong.  By this time in history, hand tinting was a thing of the past right?  I hate to burst your bubble but…


Moving stuff around in my room, I found these framed photos of my grandparents, and as you can see the one of my grandpa is colored.  Turns out photographs were sent away to studios so they could be hand colored.

The research I’ve done on this is photographers were going to ditch the whole hand tinting thing, but then WWII broke out.  They made thousands of dollars by tinting photos for ladies so they could send photos to their sweethearts, or soldiers who wanted to leave a color photo for their loved ones (or even a sweetheart).  See because in WWI there was autochrome, and by the 1940s that technique wasn’t as popular – not since Wizard of Oz was released into theaters back in the 1930s.

By the early 1950s hand tinting died out.  I have a hand tinted photograph of my aunt when she was three years old, and she was born in 1948.

So next time you’re searching for your photos to colorize, see if you can find 1940s hand tinted photos!

Fashion and colorization?

One of my last posts mentioned that one way to help pick colors for the decade you’re colorizing – take the time to find authentic fashion of the time period.  That will help you see first hand the color schemes used back then.  I mean we all know some of the more cliche fashion styles like barber shop quartet outfits, but what about others?

These are obviously from the 1860s into the Edwardian era.  The vest is a man’s, which means men didn’t always wear just blue, black, gray, and brown.  One thing to remember is that even the paintings from that era can’t be trusted because it’s a well known fact that every artist exaggerates when it comes to color.  Why lie about color?  I can answer that with a hand tinted photograph:


Was her dress yellow, or was it the color the hand painter decided to use?  We may never know the answer to that question.  Many artists like to take liberties with color, and those who purchase the piece don’t really mind because truth be told, color is enchanting.

Back to the original subject – Fashion and colorization

If you’re colorizing 1920s, look at authentic/vintage jewelry.  I know it’s hard to filter through all the costume stuff but once you find original jewelry from the time, really take the time to look at it.  Remember, this was the time when Howard Carter found King Tut’s tomb so an Egyptian Revival exploded on the scene

Don’t always let Hollywood tell you how it was, because Hollywood isn’t always right.  It wasn’t just about feathers, pearls, and fedoras.

One thing to remember!!!!!  Uniform color, and this is not a hard topic to look up at all!  When you colorize a soldier or military branch, make sure you use the right color for the uniform you’re colorizing!

Hope this helps!

What colors do I choose?

One of the things that people seem to question all the time when colorizing antique photographs is – what colors do I use???  Fair enough question, since you don’t want to use an 1980s color scheme for the 1920s.  I have a solution for you, one that is very simple.

Remember when I mentioned hand tinting?  This will be your blessing in disguise.

These will help you get a more of an understanding of the color palette used on photographs.  This leads to the next helpful solution

Vintage magazines are a great help in understanding the colors used in decades past.  Another thing to think of in this category – old sewing patterns because they used to show full detail color sketches of the outfit.

Finally, it never hurts to look at authentic fashion of the time.  MAKE SURE IT’S AUTHENTIC!!!!!!  There are tons of reproductions out there, which is fine because people need to make a living (and they have a love for something like everyone else), but some are not authentic.  For example, if they are going by the costuming in the film The Great Gatsby, that isn’t authentic 1920s fashion.

Hope this helps you with your colorizing!

Is it vintage or digital?

Let’s face it, we’re in the digital age – digital photography is the thing now, unlike the tedious glass plate photography or even film photography.  So remember when I told you about how photographers would write on their photos “copyright”?  Well as it turns out, there are hundreds who will put their digital tag on old photos (I’m one of those), but do they own them?


This photograph of a lovely young lady posing for a famous Paper Moon snapshot.  Notice the tag on the bottom right hand corner?  The time this photograph was taken (and it isn’t a reproduction), embossing was used for the 3D effect of images – on the cardboard backing of photographs.  Meaning photographer initials were hand written on the photo if his business wasn’t embossed on the backing and the photo wasn’t placed in that cardboard frame.

Victorian/Edwardian era and the 1920s were all about flair and what caught the eye so color and embossing was used all over the place.  A lot of postcards were accented with gold leaf or something for that sparkle.  However, when it came to photographs like this, the photographer wouldn’t emboss the photo.  That initial isn’t part of the original photograph.

So what does that all mean?  Can it be removed?  Here’s the thing, a lot of people like to say they have claim to rare photos so they slap their logo on it before showing it on their website (I found this one on Pinterest).  Again, research helps in this case.  Make sure the logo isn’t connected to a historical society, or even protected by some sort of History community.  If it’s just someone gathering a bunch of photos and trying to say they have rare photos – yeah you can remove it.

Taryn Sullivan colorizations

You’ve heard me talk about colorizing, and that I do it, so why not some proof?


From the 1920s, a woman dressed for 4th of July celebrations


I still can’t quite figure the decade (sometimes its easy by looking at the swimwear).  Fun fact, sometimes photographers would set up a small studio near the beach with a beach backdrop).


This young lady was quite the wild woman in her day.  She was a ballerina, frequenting the stage as a vaudeville performer and contortionist yet when she was offstage she would smoke and drink and even start fights



One of my favorites – taken in 1899.  Nothing else is known yet I’ve tried to find out more.


These sort of post cards were the early form of baseball cards.  Sold with cigarette and tobacco.  This particular player is W. H. “Yank” Robinson when he played for the St. Louis Browns

Too much restoration?

When you’re restoring a photograph, are you making sure you’re not going too far? O_o Say what? How can you go too far when restoring a photograph? Isn’t it just removing the scratches/tears/mold spots or anything else that has damaged the photo? Bringing it back to how it looked when it first came from the printers and handed to the owner? Half correct.

If you don’t know the story, Louis Daguerre received credit for the famous Daguerreotype. It was found out years later, he stole the idea from someone else – as in the most obvious thing realized was he never talked about how the invention worked (why didn’t anyone think to ask him that simple question???). To elaborate, he was at a party, heard someone talking about this invention, then pushed this person to keep talking until Louis had the information needed to get famous off an invention that wasn’t his. Well photographers got smart and started writing on their photographs “copyright” next to their name on the photograph or the photograph was mounted in a cardboard frame that proved the photograph was taken by that photographer. Have you ever come across photos with these copyrights?


When you’re restoring a photograph that has this, DO NOT remove those tags!!!!! If you remove that tag that is your way of taking claim of the photograph and saying “I took the photograph, it is mine. I can do whatever I want with it.” You can color the tags but you have to leave those there (the numbers you see?  They have to stay too). To those that sell colorized photographs? HINT: Many people buy a photograph when less of its vintage flare is removed. You’d be surprised how many will buy photos because you kept even a small thing like that in the photo.

Another thing I come across with my photographs – the cabinet cards. That tag on the bottom or even the frame; how are you supposed to sell a photograph with that taking up so much space? The customer will get confused – Newsboy was a famous printing company for cabinet cards and customers will either like the vintage aspect, or wonder if Newsboy is part of my business.


Well here’s something I found out – when displaying the photographs on your website you have to keep these card frames. However, when you go to sell the photograph itself for prints, you can remove that frame. As long as you are showing somewhere that the frame exists, you’re fine.

Good luck!




Finding the right vintage photo


Say you want to build a business off vintage colorizing, and it can be done because people have done this successfully. Vintage has come back full swing; what with Downton Abbey, The Great Gatsby, and the obsession with Titanic. So you’ll need to make sure to find vintage photographs to colorize that will WOW people….how do you know there isn’t a catch latched onto what you find? It’s antique; all the copyrights should have run out already, the subjects in the photograph are dead, and also the photographer. No strings attached right? Well……

Sadly certain vintage photographs come with a catch. The most famous one is Buster Keaton; he has living relatives who continue to run festivities in his honor every year. The Keaton family are completely fine with colorizers showing off their colorized pieces of The Great Stoneface (here are mine, after all it’s a way for fellow fans of Buster to connect and talk about his films. However, once you try to put a price tag on those photographs there’s a problem. The only time you can sell a piece of art that’s Buster Keaton is if you personally created it, such as a painting or a sculpture.  Another famous name in the Silent Film era I came across that is officially off limits – Rudolph Valentino, the heart throb of his time. I only colorized a total of three images with him so it didn’t really bother me when the Silent Film Historical Society stated no profit could be made off his photographs. Who knows why it was suddenly decided his photos are off limits but the fact is they are which means you can colorize his photos, but can’t sell them.

A few other names from that era popped up – Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplain, however I never saw Mary Pickford who was known as the Queen of Silent Film. The one that confused me was photographs of Mack Sennett himself were off limits for selling, but the bathing beauties were fine. When you get into the later years of Hollywood (Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly), make sure to do some research (ugh so much paperwork for one little thing) BUT AGAIN! Remember when I talked about Copyright issues? Fred Astaire still has living family, not so “eyes of a hawk” like the Keaton family when it comes to the art world since they are focused on the world of dance. One piece of art could change all that so make sure you take every precaution before releasing something. Gene Kelly’s living family has lately been making appearances with the show Dancing with the Stars, so I would be VERY careful with any pieces I release of him.

Famous icons, and I mean FAMOUS icons, are off limits. Marilyn Monroe photos can’t be sold and the reason for that is there are STILL exhibits, gallery showings, you name it. She is still worldwide famous and the only way you can make profit off the name is with knick knacks. This goes for any icon you colorize – Unless you have permission to manipulate the photographs currently on display in an art gallery – you can do nothing to that photograph. Make a bag or a pair of shoes with an unmanipulated photograph and you’re fine, but as for a print with a colorized photo? You can’t do it. Another famous face – The Great Bambino himself, Babe Ruth. Now, I’m currently selling a photograph of him dressed in a military uniform and I looked up to see if I needed to remove the image; turns out that photographs of Babe Ruth in his baseball uniform can’t be sold (only through the Baseball historic society or branches of), but the service uniform is okay. Sometimes you will run into situations like that, never hurts to go the extra mile and read up to make sure you sell the right one (I guess Elvis has the same kind of deal). There is a name that stands out in the entertainment world – Barrymore. Drew Barrymore’s family legacy on stage and in Hollywood goes back to maybe the 1880s.   I don’t think I need to tell you – don’t sell any Barrymore photographs, considering Drew is in the business still.

Basically the thing to realize here is that just because the photograph is old, doesn’t mean the history surrounding it is dead.


Now that colorizing has become popular, I want you to take a moment and look at this photograph from WWI

Amazing isn’t it?  Did you read the article too?  Autochrome was invented by two French brothers, Auguste & Louise Lumiere, and they basically invented color photography in the early 1900s with a special process that I never remember.  The colors are always so bright and vibrant – if you ever read up on them, those brothers had a thing for color.

Now that autochrome has been discovered (again), there has been speculation.  I’ve seen several people worried that the modern colorized photos are going to be mistaken for vintage autochrome and I have the answers for that.

– Colorizers always have an original photo to place next to the colored version.  With Autochrome, there’s only the colored version.

– The vibrant colors were always used, and they are always set in Europe (usually Britain and France).  I haven’t seen a colorizer match the Autochrome color palette.

So I think it’s safe to say Autochrome will stay on top when it comes to vintage color photos.