One of the most iconic themes in the Wizard of Oz is the transition from sepia to colour. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to colourise a sepia photo to create a coloured image.
Colourising a sepia or black-and-white image can seem like a
real challenge, but although it takes time and patience, it’s probably easier
than you think. Here I'll take you through colourising a photograph in Adobe Photoshop.
This is the image I'm going to use to take you through the colourising process:
I find black and white easier to work with than sepia, so the first thing I did was convert this. This is just my personal preference, and you don’t have to; work on the sepia if you prefer.
1. Make Sure the Image Mode Is Set Correctly
Once your image is loaded in, you need to make sure the Image Mode is RGB and not Grayscale, even if your image is monochrome or black and white. Click Image > Mode and see that RGB Colour is ticked.
2. Start With Large Blocks of Colour
Use the Quick Select tool to select the sky or what would be the largest single block of colour in the photo.
Hit Refine Edge.
Below you can see I’ve checked Smart Radius and changed the amount to 5 px—you can adjust it to whatever looks best for your image. I’ve also increased Smooth to 3 px to take off the hard edges. You can use the Refine/Erase Refinements tools here to tidy up your selection, and when you’re happy hit OK.
Now you have your selection, click Adjustment Layers and add a Solid Colour layer.
Choose a colour that you think will suit the sky for your picture. It doesn't matter if it looks really bright, because that will be adjusted in a minute. Once you’ve chosen the colour, hit OK and you’ll see it outputs to a mask.
Change the Blend Mode to Overlay and the colour will look much better. If it’s still not quite right, double click the blue square next to the mask and drag your picker about until you find a better colour.
Once you’re happy, you can tidy up any missed or sloppy bits using a soft black/white brush on your mask.
3. Choose Areas of Similar Colours
Repeat the selection process detailed in the previous steps, this time with the carrot tops and melon. Leave out the cucumber for now so that everything isn’t the exact same shade of green. This time I changed Smooth to 2 px when refining the edges, but again, do what works best for you.
Create a new Solid Colour layer with your selection again as you did before, and choose a shade of green. At the moment, leave the Opacity of each colour at 100%. These can be adjusted later when all the colours are finished.
Change the blending mode to Overlay and then adjust your colouring to suit. Do the same for the cucumber but use a different shade of green. Once the veggies are finished, move on to the skin tones.
4. Skin Tones and Eyes
Do the man and woman separately as it’s unlikely they’d have the exact same skin colour; he’d probably be a little more weather-beaten!
Select the skin and refine your edges as before. Then when you’ve hit OK, press Q to get the Quick Mask selection up and then use the brush to colour out his eyes and any other areas that you won’t want to be skin-coloured. Press Q again and you’ll see that the parts you coloured red are now taken out of your selection.
When you’re choosing your skin tones, try a few to see which look best but remember that as the blend mode will be Overlay, the colours aren’t really ‘true’. So go for very muted pink/browns rather than peach colours, or you’ll end up with orange glowing skin!
For the eyes, create a Solid Colour layer without any selection and choose a colour. Click on the mask and hit Control-I to invert the selection. Now paint over the eyes as with the other layers. As you can’t really see his eyes from behind the glasses, I dropped the Opacity to 40% so as to just give a hint of colour.
If you colour a photo where you can really see the eyes, remember to only colour the irises.
5. Lips and Hair
When you’ve finished the skin and eyes, you can add a little light and shade by making the lips a slightly different colour. Choose a red/brown colour and use a low opacity brush to add some colour.
For hair, try to look at the shading in the photo to get the nearest match, even though it’s sepia or black and white. I chose a dark colour for the man and lowered the Opacity to 90% to fade the colour out a little as he’s obviously an older man. The woman doesn’t look as if she has dyed hair, so I went with a dark grey.
6. Finishing Touches
Finish up by choosing colours for the clothes, and then once you have your colours set you can start to tweak the opacity of the other layers and get them looking more natural.
Remember, less is more, and if you’re going for an ‘authentic’ look then be realistic about colours that would have been worn at the time and reduce the saturation to keep the ‘old photo’ look. If you just want to be wacky with colours, then forget what I just said and go for it!
Awesome Work, You're Done!
When choosing your own photo to colourise, keep in mind that the more detailed it is, the more time-consuming and difficult it will be to colour. Try to pick images with large sections of the same colour first, and move on to more complex photos as the method becomes easier for you. This is a really fun process to do, so have fun with it and I'd love to see your colourised photos.