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Adding Color to Black and White Photographs

Updated on June 21, 2013
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Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

There are a few formats that can be used to photograph; black and white film, color film, negative or positive film and off course digital.

You can mix two or more formats into one image with a little ingenuity and some digital know how; combine black and white film and color in the same image.

Choose a subject such as a brightly colored red rose, then choose a rather plain background such as some grasses. The rose will be captured with colored film and the grasses with black & white film. Download both images into a digital editing software program and combine.

An alternative is too shoot both separate scenes in digital and then using a digital photo editing software program make the background into a monochromatic image, you will then digitally combine both images. The objective is to make the center of interest in the photograph be in color while the rest of the image is in black & white.

You can use images that you already have, but its more fun to go searching for subjects and explore the available surroundings for good examples and by using color and black & white film you are getting two images for the price of one almost. This exercise will help you understand the balance of texture and patterns that are magnified by the monochromatic film.

Flowers are not the only subjects that can be used, butterflies make excellent subjects, colored marbles, brightly dressed people. The main point of interest is brightly colored, its surroundings do not really matter since you can edit them out digitally, however you must try to achieve a good balance within the composition.

Try to avoid shooting a main subject that is enveloped within very confusing details like a rose inside a brush surrounded by other roses. Try to isolate the subject, This will make it easier to digitally edit the photograph.

If using an image that you already have in Photoshop: open the image in the image editing program. This will go in the background layer. Create a second layer directly above the main image and fill this layer with a gray color. Create a selection that selects everything with the exception of the main point of interest. Use this to create a mask on the gray layer that hides the main point of interest. Set the blend mode of the gray layer to saturation. Click OK when done.

There are about a dozen other ways of adding color to black & white images. To learn more follow the following link to a Youtube video tutorial: Photoshop. The easiest way still remains to sandwich two images, but digitally painting the color in is also quite simple with a little practice.

This technique gives one a broader spectrum from which to grow one's photographic skills. This technique can also be turned into a lucrative business. Many art galleries showcase this style and many greeting card manufactures also use it. The fashion industry and jewelry manufactures also use this type of imaging to highlight their products when they want the product's image to be the only center of attraction in their add print campaigns.

Private work, parties and weddings still remain the most in demand subjects for this technique, but it should however be used judiciously.

Hundreds more photography articles here!

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Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Kim M Gregory: Thank you,glad that you liked it.

    • Kim M Gregory profile image

      Kim Morgan Gregory 6 years ago from The Coast of The South Carolina Lowcountry

      Wowwww! I have always wanted to do this but had no idea where to begin....can't wait to try this!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      @Pamela99; thanks I'm glad that you liked it.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      @VirginiaLynne; Yes there are some more advanced cameras that can do this, but for more creative control, it is better to digitally edit them.

      Thanks for the comment, I always glad when people enjoy my posts. BTW I was an English teacher too.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      I enjoy using Photoshop to do this technique but some cameras will do it also. I have a Canon powershot which has a color feature for you to take the photo with just one color.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      This is a great technique. I love the color on the black and white. Rated up.

    • Radioguy profile image

      Radioguy 6 years ago from Maine

      Sometimes color gets in the way of what a picture really is! Well done!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      I always wondered how they got the black and white to show color. Thanks for this very useful information.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I love this technique!