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Learn Photography

Photoshop Elements >

Hand Coloring a B&W Photograph >

1 - Preliminaries

You can easily hand color a black-and-white photograph.

You no longer have to use Marshall's oils and Q-Tips™, like Frances E. Schultz.

Go to Handcolor Your Prints, A Venerable Craft that Is Still Going Strong.

Below, we'll select an area, and will fill it with a color.

There are other methods, as well.

Go to Other Hand Coloring Methods.

Three Tips

Tip #1 - Use Blank Layers

Paint colors on blank layers.

For example, let's say your adding color to the subject's hair.


a) Create a blank layer.

b) Rename the layer from Layer 1 to Hair.

c) You'll paint the hair color on the Hair layer.

Go to Create a Blank Layer.

Tip #2 - Rename the Blank Layers

You'll probably create many blank layers.

Rename them!.

Then, when you need to fine tune some coloring, you can locate the right layer quickly.

Go to Renaming Layers.

Tip #3 - Save Selections

Save your selections as you go along.

You may need them later.

Also, you can often use parts of previous selections when making new ones.

Let's say you're coloring a photograph of your great grandmother.

Make a selection of the background behind her.

Save the selection by doing the following.

a) At the top of your screen, go to Select > Save Selection.

b) Enter Background as the name of the selection.

After you add color to the background, invert the selection.

Go to Select > Inverse.

The selection "flips."

Your great grandmother is now selected.

If you haven't already done so, go to Flip the Selection.

Save the selection as Granny.

From this selection you can easily make new selections for her hair, face, and clothing.

Two Tweaks

Tweak #1 - Blending Modes

When you use the Brush tool, or the Paint Bucket tool, to add color, the color is opaque.

You can't see the photograph (Background copy layer) that's under the the color layer.

Just change the blending mode of the color layer to Color.

The Color blending mode takes the luminosity (tones) from the Background copy layer, and adds the color.

Blending mode?

At the top of the layers stack, look for the unlabeled Blending Mode box.

It's to the left of the Opacity box.


If you're new to blending modes, go to Blending Modes.

Tweak #2 - Opacity

Layers have have an Opacity setting at the top of the layers panel.

The Opacity box is at the top of the layers stack, to the right of the Blending Mode box.

It probably has 100% inside.


At 100%, the opacity of the layer is solid.

If you lower the opacity, the layer becomes increasingly transparent.

At 0%, you can't see the layer at all.

So, if the color you added is too strong, simply lower the opacity of the layer.

Do the following.

a) Select the layer (highlighted).

b) Lower the opacity.

If you haven't already done so, go to Changing Box Numbers.

Color Sources

From where do you get the colors?

You can use the Color Picker, color swatches, and you can get color from other photographs and materials.

Go to Color Picking.

For skin tones, go to the Skin Tone Samples Chart.

Record the Colors Used

After choosing a color, that color is the foreground color.

You'll probably be choosing many colors.

The foreground color will be changing.

What if you want to return to a previously used color?

Place the colors in a color swatch library.

Go to Window > Color Swatches.

Click inside the Color Swatches panel where there's no colors.

You'll be prompted to save the color swatch library.

Click Cancel.

The color is now available for your selection.

Now, let's do some coloring.