Image editing with Picture Window Pro:
Tinting and hand coloring Black & White images
by Norman Koren

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Table of contents

for Image editing with
Picture Window Pro

Introduction | Making masks
Contrast masking
Example: Sunset, Providence, Rhode Island
Tinting and hand coloring B&W images
Introduction  |  Cleanup  |  Overall toning
Hand coloring  |  Tinting  |  The result



for the Making Fine
Prints series
Getting started | Light & color
Pixels, images, & files | Scanners
Digital cameras | Printers | Papers and inks
Monitor calibration and gamma
Printer calibration | Scanning | Basic image editing
Black & White | Matting and framing
Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras

Color Management: Introduction | Implementation
Profiles with MonacoEZcolor | Evaluating profiles

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This page illustrates how to tint and hand color Black & White photographs.

Introduction: My great-grandfather

My great-grandfather, Naftali Linger, had more than his share of Chutzpah. One day, when he was in his seventies, he was assaulted by a gang of young ruffians who taunted him for his old world Jewish appearance. When they pulled his beard he struck back, sending two of them to the hospital. A politically connected relative had to spring him from jail.

"Oy America, America. In Russia it would have meant Siberia," he marveled.

Sometimes his grandchildren, nephews and nieces would gather round and beg him to put the plams of his hands together so they could see the large scar that ran from one hand to the other.

"Well," he would explain in Yiddish, "I was working in my shop when I heard a scream from the front. It was your grandmother. There, standing over her was a Cossack with a raised sword. I didn't need to ask  any questions. I knew what he wanted. Bubbeh (grandmother) was a beauty. I grabbed the sword with both hands and took it. Naturally he ran. Wouldn't you? Well, it turned out to be a blessing. What's a Cossack without his sword? The next day he came back and we made a pact that the Cossacks would never harm us if I returned the sword and never told his friends. We shook hands, and despite the pain it was the sweetest handshake I ever had."

The two stories and one photograph are all I have to remember him. Fortunately the photograph is rather well preserved, marred only by some creases and small stains. But the sepia tone is yellower than I like, so I decided to breath new life into it digitally. I scanned the 7.6x9.8 inch print at 400 dpi on the Epson 2450. File size is 3025x3930 pixels, sufficient for an A3 enlargement.

First step-- Clean it up.

Removing defects should always be the first step. You can use Picture Window Pro's Speck removal tool (one of the Miscellaneous tools), which replaces defects with the average of nearby pixels, but I prefer Clone because it maintains surface texture and grain. Clone works by copying pixels from nearby good areas of similar colors.

Defect removal is best done with the image zoomed to at least 1:1. Click on the Clone symbol or click Tools, Clone to bring up the Clone dialog box, illustrated on the left. The cloning brush is defined by the Radius, Transparency and Softness sliders. I adjust Radius occasionally, making it larger to speed editing in areas with large defects and little detail. If the dialog box is buried, click on Bring transformation dialog to top. Shift-click on the area you want to clone from, then click on the area to clone to. You can move the cursor along scratches and creases. When Linked checked in the OPT box (the default setting), the "from" and "to" circles track. You can change the relationship any time using shift-click to reset the "from" circle. If you make a mistake, you can undo it by pressing control-Z. I recommend using short strokes when so you don't lose too much work when correcting errors-- you can go back several strokes if needs be.

I use small radii for detailed areas, like the collar shown on the right, where the lower circle clones to the upper, and larger radii for the rather featureless background. For routine defects like small specks or stains I use a small spacing between the "from" and "to" circles. But the crease presented some difficulties. Because the scanner light source is oblique, the image is light just above the crease and dark below it. I used large spacings to clone from a distance-- to try to bring these areas into balance with the rest of the background. Where that didn't suffice, I used the Lighten and Darken (Miscellaneous) tools with large radii, keeping transparency above 90% to change the density gradually.

Overall toning

Since I don't like the yellowish tone of the original-- it makes my great-grandfather looked jaundiced-- I tried changing it using two of Picture Window Pro's many approachs.

The first approach used the Levels and Color transformation, illustrated below. Levels and Color is one of Picture Window Pro's most versatile transformations. Its simple controls allow you to do several things at the same time: you can adjust shadow, midtone and highlight density, color balance and saturation. Here we use it for color balance-- to remove the yellow cast.

  1. Select the image and click on Transformation, Gray, Levels and Color... to bring up the Levels and Color dialog box (bottom, below) and Preview window (right, below).
  2. Click on Color Balance and move cursor in the Color Balance box (left, below) for the desired effect. You make other adjustments if you wish. The results appear in the Preview window.
  3. Click OK when you are finished.
  4. The images below have been shrunk for Web presentation.
Adjusting tint with Levels and Color
Correcting tonal balance with Levels and Color.


The second approach used the Tint transformation, which was designed for colorizing B&W images. Tint can be used for striking effects, but here we apply it delicately. Its operation is described in detail below. When Tint is applied to color images, they are first converted to B&W, so, unlike Levels and Colors, you start from scratch. Other transformations-- Color Curves (RGB mode), Color Balance or Filter-- could have been employed, but were less straightforward.

Both images are satisfactory; the differences between them are quite subtle. But neither filled the bill. I wanted something more.


Hand coloring

Hand-colored Black & White photographs were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They all but disappeared with the advent of color film in the 1930's, but their evocative nostalgic qualities led to a revival in the 1970's. Real hand coloring-- oils on photographic paper-- is tedious and exacting, with little room for error. Digital hand coloring, on the other hand, allows for unlimited trial-and-error; it is remarkably easy to learn. Hand coloring can be used to produce strange and wonderful surrealistic effects, but here we use it sparingly to replicate the old nineteenth century style.

Start with a color image that has little or no color.

I decided to start from a monochrome original, though I could have started with less saturated versions of either of the above images. The original must be a color image. If your image was scanned in B&W, the Convert transormation is the simplest way to convert it to color. Select the original image and click Transformation, Convert..., 24-bit (or 48-bit) color, OK. You can also do the conversion with the Tint transformation, which allows you to add a tint to the image. Select the original image and click Transformation, Gray, Tint... Add a tint using the techniques described below, then Click OK.

If you need to convert a full color original to monochrome, my favorite approach is the Monochrome transformation, which allows you to filter the image as you might have done while taking it. You can use a green filter to lighten leaves or a red filter for Ansel Adams dark skies-- any filter you want. Click Transformation, Color, Monochrome... Then click on the green Filter box and click Select Solid Color. This brings up a Filter Color dialog box, similar to the Color dialog boxes illustrated below. Experiment with the filter color, and when you are satisfied with the Preview image, click OK. Then convert it back into color using one of the techniques in the previous paragraph. Another approach is to desaturate the image with the Saturation transformation. This allows you to maintain a slight coloration, which can be a nice way to start for hand coloring. Click Transformation, Color, Saturation. Move the slider to the left to reduce saturation. HSV and HSL color spaces produce very different results. When you are satisfied, click OK.

Tint the background.

The first step in hand coloring the image is to tint large areas, in this case the background. I chose turquoise (cyan-blue). Tinting takes place in two steps. First, make the mask. Next, tint the masked area.

Start by making a mask.

We must create a mask-- a B&W image with the same pixel size as the edited image-- to select the area to be tinted. Masks is appropriate for working with large areas. The painting technique, described below, is better suited for small areas. To make the mask for the background,

  1. Select the monochrome image and click on Mask, New, or . The Mask dialog box appears.
  2. Using the Freehand Outline tool, draw a mask around the figure and the chair. It doesn't have to be precise; it can be done in several steps. You can toggle between the Add and Subtract functions to correct small errors.
  3. To soften the mask away from the figure, click Feather, then set Feather Width to its most negative value, -64. Click Apply.
  4. Since the mask still isn't soft enough, click Blur, then set Radius to its maximum value, 100. Click on Apply, OK. The resulting mask is shown in the lower right of the illustration below. Blur can be applied repeatedly; it seems to run faster than Feather.
Tint the masked area.

Apply a cyan-blue tint to the background, using the mask.

  1. Select the monochrome image (center in the illustration below), then click on Transformation, Gray, Tint... to bring up the Tint dialog box (bottom, below) and Preview window (upper right, below).
  2. Shift-click near the center of the color bar (just below the amount slider). This adds control point 2, shown in the dialog box. The control point on the right is renumbered to 3.
  3. Double-click on or near the number 2 to open the Color picker dialog box for color 2 (top left, below), which controls the midtone tint.
  4. Adjust the color by moving the circle in the color hexagon. You can also set the numbers in the boxes, shown here for RGB color space. (HSV and HSL are available.) You can lighten or darken the image with the vertical slider in the Color picker.
  5. Repeat the last two steps for control point 3-- the right end of the color bar. I applied a slight tint to point 3 and a moderate tint to point 2.
  6. If you wish to add additional color control points, you may do so by shift-clicking on the appropriate location on the color the bar. You can bring up a Color picker by double clicking at the same location. Several can be open at once. You can delete control points by control-clicking on them. If you move them, you may need to adjust the tone slider on the right of the Color picker.
  7. You can optionally save the Tint settings by clicking OPT, Save as... in the Tint dialog box. Give the file a easily recognizable name and make sure it's in a convenient directory. This can be handy for colors you are likely to use repeatedly, like skin tone.
  8. Click on the box to the right of the Amount slider to select the mask.
  9. When you are satisfied with the appearance of the Preview image, click OK. The tinted output file will be labeled "Untitled n," where n is a number that increases by 2 each time a transformation is applied. The remainder of editing will be done on "Untitled n," which we will call the working image. You might want to save it with a unique name-- different from the input file. The painting operations, below, will transform it into the final image. Keep the input file (the original monochrome image) open. You'll need it for the adjustments below.
Tinting the background cyan using a mask
Creating a turquoise background with the Tint transformation and a mask.

Paint the remaining colors using Clone with the One to One option.

Now we get to the fun part of hand tinting-- "painting" colors using the mouse as a brush. You can adjust the radius, transparency and softness of the brush for exquisite control; you can go back and forth between adding and removing color. Painting is accomplished using the Clone tool with the One to One option checked; this copies pixels from one image to the same location in another image of equal size. One to one cloning is a powerful technique; it can also be used for adjusting small areas with any transformation that doesn't alter geometry-- sharpening, blurring and tone and color adjustments.

The working image-- the image with the turquoise background-- is one of two active images; the other is the is the monochrome source, which is used to create the tinted images for cloning. Painting proceeds in two phases. First, we create one or more tinted images starting from the monochrome source.

  1. Select the monochrome image (center in the illustration below), then click on Transformation, Gray, Tint... to display the Tint dialog box (bottom right in the illustration below).
  2. Tint the image following steps 2-5 above. The tint can be stronger (it can be more saturated) than the desired final effect. The reddish image for tinting the face and hands is shown in the upper right of the image below.
  3. When the Preview image looks correct, click OK. The tinted image will be labeled "Untitled n."
  4. You may, if you wish, create a palette of colors by repeating steps 1-3. You'll need plenty of memory. Use the Zoom Out tool to shrink the palette images so they fit conveniently on the side of the screen.
Next, we clone color from a tinted image into the working image.
  1. Bring the working image to the front and enlarge the area you want to work on. The zoom commands, zoom tool and scroll tool are useful for this purpose.
  2. Click on the Clone symbol or click Tools, Clone to bring up the Clone dialog box. Click OPT and check One to One.
  3. Shift-click anywhere on the tinted image to be cloned.
  4. Move the cursor over the working image. You'll see the Clone paintbrush circle. (See illustration below.) Set Radius, Transparency and Softness to appropriate values. I adjust Radius to fit the image. I usually keep Transparency over 90% so that it takes several passes to obtain the desire color. This gives the finest control. You'll learn quickly from experience.
  5. Now start painting. Move the cursor in short strokes the while pressing the mouse button. Correct errors by pressing control-Z. Adjust Radius as needed-- larger for large areas, smaller near edges. If the Clone dialog box is buried, click on the Bring transformation to top symbol . An intermediate result is shown below.
  6. To reduce or remove tint, shift-click on the monochrome source, then paint on the working image. You can always correct areas you've overdone. I removed the tint from the eyes and reduced it in the shadow areas on the left of the face. I went back and forth several times, adding and removing tint until it was excatly what I wanted. (Try doing that with oils!)
The first tinted image I made for cloning the face and hands was reddish-orange-- my idea of skin color. But when I cloned it into the working image it looked far too yellow. That brought back the old lesson about the interaction of colors. When a color, especially a pale color, is placed next to another, its appearance is shifted towards the compliment of that color. Iif you place a gray next to a strong yellow, it looks bluish. The skin tone looked correct in isolation, but the turqouise background made it look yellowish. I had to make another, reddish, tinted image for the skin, shown in the upper right of the image below.


Using One to One Clone to tint the face

I tinted the chair by cloning from the same red image I used for the face.

The necktie presented a small dilemma. I wanted to make it red to match my great-grandfather's fiery personally, but I knew it couldn't have been red. The picture was taken in the 1920's, when most photographers used orthochromatic film, which was insensitive to red. A red tie would have appeared black. So I made it pale blue.

The result

My great-grandfather, Naftali Linger

The final hand-colored image has far more presence than the original. My great-grandfather looks timeless rather than old-fashioned. I'm pleased with the result. But I reserve the right to change the necktie to red.






Images and text copyright © 2000-2014 by Norman Koren.
Norman Koren lives in Boulder, Colorado, founded Imatest LLC in 2004, previously worked on magnetic recording technology. He has been involved with photography since 1964.