Since I didn't want to pay for a fancy photo editing program I used the free program GIMP and found a helpful video tutorial to walk me through the process. Here is what the photo looked like after I manipulated it.
I know it doesn't look perfect; the eyes, for example, look unnatural, but for a first attempt I don't think it looks terrible. Perhaps, this was a poor image to begin with because there was not much contrast in the facial features, making it difficult to tell where the lips and eyes met the surrounding skin. That said, I think this technique has the potential to refresh some of those old photos and bring them to life in a way.
The process really wasn't that difficult, but it was time-consuming and repetitive. However, if you just don't feel like thinking and yet you still want to accomplish something this might be just the task to fill the bill.
Here are the basic steps I followed, though I'm sure there are many ways to achieve the same result.
- Make a copy of the photo you want to colorize. Don't even
think about using your original!
- To make sure you can color your copy go to Image → Mode and
- In the middle of the Toolbox window, click on the set of
boxes (one black, one white) to select the color you want to begin
with. When you choose a color keep in mind that it won't look
exactly like that when applied to your photograph. The program
takes into account the pigment density (for lack of a better
descriptor) in the area you are coloring. For example in my
photograph, the folds of the dress have a higher pigment density and
thus look darker blue.
- Now go to Layer → New Layer. Name your layer, such as
“skin” and make sure that you select “Foreground Color”
before you click OK. Don't be alarmed when your photo is completely
obscured by the color.
- In the Layers box (if it didn't pop up, go to Windows →
Dockable Dialogs → Layers and then pull the window off to the side
so you can see the screen with your photo as well) right click
on your new layer and select Add Layer Mask from the drop-down menu.
When the dialog box comes up select “Black, full transparency.”
- At the top of the Layers dialog box where it says Mode, click
on it and select “Overlay” from the drop down menu.
- In the Toolbox window select the pink eraser tool. Now you
are ready to color. At the bottom of the screen with your
photograph zoom in to 200%-800% so you can easily see what you want
to color. Move your cursor over onto the image and you will see a
dotted circle or something like it. That is the size of your
eraser. On the Toolbox window there is a Scale slider you can use
to increase or decrease the size of your eraser to suit the area you
are coloring. I like to start with a larger tool to do the large
areas of the same color and then decrease the tool size to go back
and do the edges and any nooks or crannies. To color in the area
selected by the circle click the left mouse button. Keep the left
mouse button down and move your cursor around to color your selected
section. Save frequently so if you make a mistake you can go to
Edit → Undo and you won't lose a lot of your work.
- Lather, rinse and repeat. Go back to step 3 to select your
next color and so on until you have colored everything you want to.
- When you are completely done, you will need to combine all of
the layers so you can save it as a jpg to share with your family.
To do this go to Image → Flatten Image. Now you can Save As and
choose the file type (.jpg).
Good luck if you decide to try this out. Remember to start with a very simple photo like the one I chose. Believe me, you do not want to try this out on a photo with lots of details. Then amaze your family with the results.
Just for the record, this photo is of Mary Jo Townsend who lived with my family (the Clemens) in Island Creek, Steubenville, Jefferson Co, Ohio in 1860. The photo was in the Flynn family bible belonging to my gg-grandfather, Edward Flynn and his wife, Sarah Clemens. The photo was taken in Steubenville, OH.