Should I pick a time in history?

Anyone who starts a business has to know that they need to stand out.  In the culinary field, if you open an Italian restaurant how are you going to stand out from every other Italian restaurant?  When I graduated from college, I was the only one who decided to center her portfolio around something other than portraiture – and people loved it.  Portraiture, when done right, can be mesmerizing but if done the same exact way it’s just bland.

So say you want to start your own business in the vintage colorizing field; you’ve done all the research, but the only problem is how do you stand out from all the others so people flock to you?  Is there a particular time in history that you’re interested in, or a famous person?  Instead of trying so hard to focus on Civil War, Steampunk, 1920s, WWII and the more popular themes from history, take a different approach like I did.

When it comes to my restorations/colorizations, they stretch The Victorian Era into the 1930s.  Performers, athletes, famous icons, comical images, fashion, the list goes on.  Why don’t I stick to a particular theme?  The trick is I do.  Every single photograph has a story – people look at the photos I restore and colorize because there’s a story to go with it.  I’m not always successful, but I at least try to find what I can.  Also the coloring technique I use is meant to keep the photo looking vintage instead of like it was photographed yesterday.  A couple photos I’ve given a 3D effect to, not harsh but very subtle and people love it.

To stand out doesn’t always mean colorizing that particular era in history.  It could mean your colorizing style, or a particular type of photograph (ambrotype, tintype, cabinet card, etc.).  Best advice I can give is just take a day and figure it out; never hurts to check out Pinterest and look at old cabinet cards or ambrotypes.  Sometimes they spark ideas.

Hope this helps!


Colorizing a tragedy

When you pick out that photograph of Titanic victims, those who suffered during WWI or WWII, the Hindenburg disaster, or possibly even the St. Valentines Day Massacre do you stop to think what strings are attached to those photographs?

First off, I despise the act of colorizing photographs associated with tragedy.  Though I am very interested in the events surrounding Titanic and the St. Valentines Day Massacre – those photographs are capturing victims and should be left alone.  Be it passengers on a cruise ship or gangsters in Chicago respect should be given to everyone.  That is my personal opinion, now to the facts.

I’ve seen many photographs surrounding said tragedies that are colorized, and really the only one that isn’t still under investigation is Titanic.  Hindenburg is still under investigation as to what actually caused the fire, and even though we pretty much know how it happened the evidence can’t confirm and shut the case on the St. Valentines Day Massacre.  When you colorize photographs from tragedies and they are still under investigation – you’re tampering with evidence.  It doesn’t matter if that photograph has been seen 30,000 times the fact is its part of an investigation, a cold case.


This photograph for instance, of the famous Hatfield circus fire that happened in the 1940s.  There are people still alive who remember it and are traumatized by the events.  These events caused the city to ban the circus due to how many lives were lost that day.  The believed arsonist turned out not to be the culprit, and sadly whoever did this may never be found.  However, the case as it stands is cold.  It may seem like the kind of photograph to pick up and show off how you colorize fire but there are thousands of other vintage photographs you can do that with.

Someone colorized the iconic photograph of the monk who set himself on fire in protest.  That photograph was taken by a journalist named Malcolm Browne, who died in 2012 but a lot of his photos – like the burning monk – Time has possession of.  Time has a tendency to run older photographs in their magazine, or have surprise gallery showings of certain photographers.  This is why you research and find out the strings attached to the photograph because Time is an empire you don’t want to cross.

What about natural disasters?


In 1912 a bank in New York caught fire; the winter temperatures caused everything to freeze like you see in the photograph.  Firefighters had a terrible time trying to put out the flames.  Is it a problem to colorize photos from this disaster?  No.  In truth I’ve seen several natural disaster photos that have a comical element to them; people trying to make light of a bad situation.

Again, I’m not a fan of colorizing tragedies – however Thanos Archives, who specializes in post mortem vintage photography and funeral images from the past is one I highly recommend looking into (  ).  One other thing, Titanic photos I’d be careful with due to how many historic societies there are now; they’ve doubled in the last 10 years.


What about restoring?

There’s more to bringing vintage photos to life than just placing color into them.  Yes, it’s great to transform black and white photographs into colorful photographs and give it that pop, but what about the rest of the photograph?

Antique photographs can show age over time.  Not all photos are well cared for and end up with water damage, mold spots, dust, scratches, tears, creases, and any other kind of damage you can imagine.  I had a room mate try to tell me that she was given a photograph of a woman and the face was torn completely away, but she restored the face and the family couldn’t be happier because they never saw their relative before – you can’t do a puzzle unless you have all the pieces, and the most important piece she didn’t have – the face of the woman.  There are times when you just can’t restore a photograph (people’s faces unless you have another photo as reference), and other times you can (fashion and scenery).

As a photographer, when you go to edit your photos at the end of the day, you always find those dust spots in the photo that were on your lens.  Removing those spots slows down your editing time, but you do it so you have a flawless photograph.  This training has spilled into my restoring/colorizing.  Every photograph I do, I go over it and take out every single spot I can until I’m satisfied with it.  There are photographs I’ve done that take two days of restoring before I get to the colorizing, but it’s worth it.


Wartime and color

Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam I consider the stopping point for colorizing.  There is a huge responsibility when colorizing war/military photographs because trust me, someone will point out if you colored a uniform the wrong color, or medal ribbons the wrong color, etc.

You HAVE to be very careful and do your research.  The last thing you want to do is put the wrong colors on Patton; consider that the end of your career.  Make sure everyone in the photo has the right color uniform, and that even the ribbons for the medals are the right color AND that if a certain person is show in the photo his/her rank color is shown (if that makes sense).  Every detail is important; if you’re colorizing a uniform from another country and you’re not sure – the internet is a wonderful thing.  Social media is great, and people are willing to answer questions like that.

There are times you’ll run into actors dressed in military uniform and that will throw you for a loop (How many WWII films did John Wayne do?).  Remember some actors, like Clark Gable, were in the military for a short time – just take the time to look up if what they’re wearing is a costume, or a real uniform.  I won’t get into Hollywood and military outfits, that’s another post entirely. The only time I’ve ever colorized a uniform is Buster Keaton in his silent film The Navigator.

Hope this helps!

The artist behind the camera

A few posts back I mentioned that famous names were off limits.  What about photographers, and their photographs?

Matthew Brady is the famous photographer known for giving us images of the Civil War; he was close friends with President Lincoln and even after the war ended, agreed to serve as his personal photographer.  Brady suddenly retired after Lincoln died.  There were of course other photographers who photographed the war as it happened, Brady wasn’t the only photographer to do so.  His name is the most popular.  Another well known photographer that documented US history was Lewis Hine; wanting to do something about child labor, he grabbed his camera and took photographs of families and children affected by the labor laws.  Several severe injuries that the kids endured were also shown in the photographs.  His photos helped bring child labor to an end.  I’ve colorized and am selling a few of the newsies Hine photographed – I found out that a lot of these photographers that documented history, colorizers are encouraged to use.  The only time you can’t use these kinds of photographs is if living family says no.

So what about names like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, or Edward Steichen?  Photographers linked to another industry like fashion, how do you deal with that?  Do you have to deal with model, photographer, and designer permission?  Here’s the thing, many consider fashion as their brand, so when you colorize a historic fashion photograph you do need permission to change the brand.  In this case, if the model is a famous celebrity like Clara Bow or Clark Gable then you should get nervous, otherwise don’t worry about the whole model permission.  The creator and photographer have to give permission, or you can’t use it.  The brand Chanel has been around since 1909, and the photographers mentioned may be long gone but their work is still shown all around the world in art galleries.  Simplified?  Photographers work linked to another industry – permission is needed from both parties.  There is however a loophole – if the company has long since gone out of business, just check all the legal stuff surrounding the photographer.

Hope this is helpful!