Shooting Challenge: Vintage Hand-Coloring

Illustration for article titled Shooting Challenge: Vintage Hand-Coloring

Before the advent of color photography, it was common for black and white photos to be retouched with paints. The "hand-coloring" technique was used with frequency until around 1940. And for this week's Shooting Challenge, you'll dust it off.


The Challenge

Take an original photo, turn it black and white and color in the image using an original palette. The result should look retro, like an old daguerrotype (though obviously, feel free to get as creative as you'd like with the aesthetic).

Just note: I'm not asking for black and white photos with just one little part isolated in color—you know the photos I'm talking about. Paint the whole (or a significant portion of) the image. Don't give us a black and white apple tree with one red apple.

The Technique

I think the secret is simply "don't use too many colors" so that, rather than a failed attempt at realism, you produce something merely in a particular aesthetic. (Of course, the artists amongst you might prove me wrong on that one.)

Take a photo. Desaturate it. Pump the contrast. Then? Paint by numbers.

I really like this Photoshop walkthrough on Shuttertalk for true digital hand coloring, as well as this easier tutorial that requires only a magic wand and sliders.


Whether you isolate and tweak levels or you decide to truly select and paint your own colors makes no matter. The only thing I ask is that you not simply put a sepia filter on a color image or something. Really paint the image, however you choose to do it.

The Example

Our lead photo is actually a hand-colored Japanese albumen print from around 1900. Note that every element isn't necessarily painted, and the effect isn't what we'd call natural by any means, but it's absolutely striking - a different aesthetic from anything common today. The vintage photo was shared by flickr member ookami_do.


The Rules

1. Submissions need to be your own.
2. Photos must be taken since this contest was announced (read more on that above).
3. Explain, briefly, the equipment, settings, technique and story behind shot.
4. Email submissions to, not me.
5. Include 970px wide image (200KB or less) AND a 2560x1600 sized in email. I know that your photo may not fall into those exact high rez dimensions, so whatever native resolution you're using is fine.
6. One submission per person.
7. Use the proper SUBJECT line in your email (more info on that below)
8. You agree to the Standard Contest Rules - though we DO accept non-US resident submissions.
9. If the image contains any material or elements that are not owned by you and/or which are subject to the rights of third parties, and/or if any persons appear in the image, you are responsible for obtaining, prior to submission of the photograph, any and all releases and consents necessary to permit the exhibition and use of the image in the manner set forth in these rules without additional compensation. If any person appearing in any image is under the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence the signature of a parent or legal guardian is required on each release.


Send your best photo by Monday, July 25th at 8AM Eastern to with "Coloring" in the subject line. Save your files as JPGs, and use a FirstnameLastnameColoring.jpg (970px wide) and FirstnameLastnameColoringWallpaper.jpg (2560px wide) naming conventions. Include your shooting summary (camera, lens, ISO, etc) in the body of the email along with a story of the shot in a few sentences. And don't skip this story part because it's often the most enjoyable part for us all beyond the shot itself!

Mark Wilson is the founder of Philanthroper, a daily deal site for nonprofits.




I have many old b&w film photos that I’ve taken, can I use those?