How To Add Color To Black and White Photos in Photoshop

Published Apr. 29th 2008


NOTE: If the following tutorial feels overwhelming, or you’re just not interested in learning the software and would rather pay a professional, there ARE other options. Head over to ColorAPhoto.com to find out more.

For everybody else, here’s how to color your photographs yourself:

One of Adobe Photoshop’s best features is the ability it gives you to colorize black and white photographs. With Photoshop you can add color to the entire photo, or just “paint” one part of the image to create a focal point—it’s up to you.

Sound interesting? Then read through the following step by step instructions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Photoshop novice or expert, within minutes you’ll be able to use this essential Photoshop technique to bring your black and white photos to life.

Adding color to a black and white photo

First, open the image you want to colorize—preferably a black and white image with a good range of values from darkest black to pure white.

Black and White Photo

Next, go to Image >> Mode and make sure that RGB is selected. This will allow you to use the most vibrant colors possible.

Check RGB Color Mode

Now it’s time to select the area of your photo that you’d like to color—I’ll walk you through the selection method that I prefer.

Double-click the Quick Mask button near the base of your toolbar to bring up the Quick Mask options. Under “Color Indicates” choose “Selected Areas” and press OK.

Choose Quick Mask Mode

At this point you’ll also be in Quick Mask mode, although it won’t look any different at first. Choose the Paintbrush from your toolbar and start painting over the area that you’ve decided to add some color to.

Select in Quick Mask Mode

Don’t worry, you’re not really coloring anything yet—this portion will just appear to be red so you can see the area you’re selecting.

After completely covering the chosen area. . .

Quick Mask Selection

. . .click on the Quick Mask button again. This will will put you back to Normal mode. You’ll notice that the area which you just filled in with color is now selected.

Normal Selection

Pause for a moment and save the selected area for later use (or in case you make a mistake). Do this by going to Select >> Save Selection.

OK, it’s time to finally add some color to your selection. Click on Layer >> New Adjustment Layer >> Color Balance.

Create a New Adjustment Layer

Click OK on the first dialog box, and the following color sliders will appear.

Color Balance

Put a checkmark in the preview box and adjust the color sliders until you get a color you like for the selected area. Then click OK.

Choosing a Color for the Image

If there are other areas that you want to colorize, just repeat the previous steps again on a new section. That’s all there is to it!

Photograph with Color Added

Final photo-coloring advice

It will take some trial and error to get your photo looking exactly the way you want it to. Using Quick Mask to select the areas will require some practice as well.

You might find yourself changing the Color Balance sliders for each area again and again—that’s because even when you think you have the colors right where you want them, they have a way of looking a lot different when the whole photo is colorized. Just keep tweaking the sliders until you get the balance you’re looking for.

Remember to save! Always!

Save the original picture before you begin. Save every selection as you make it in Quick Mask mode. And save your project after you colorize each section. It’s a real pain to go back and re-do past sections of the photo just because you’ve messed up somewhere down the line.

Kaitlyn Miller writes for Printplace.com, an online printing company that offers postcard printing, business cards, posters and more.

To contact a professional photo editor, visit ColoraPhoto.com.

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