This photograph, produced in the 1940’s, is in a very good state of preservation because it was hidden for decades in a metal frame behind glass and behind a more recent picture. Time and exposure to light and air have given it a noticeable yellow cast. Another color complication is the image is a black and white print that was hand tinted. As a result it impossible to know exactly what the original colors were.
The print was produced by Olan Mills, a recently closed national chain of portrait studios. Hand tinting was an expensive upgrade, and it indicates the family (or perhaps an institution in this case) valued the subject significantly.
In this detail, you can see areas where the tint didn’t reach the edge of the ear and others where it spilled over the ear (1). Highlights had light tinting and with time it faded almost to the B&W (2). Fortunately mechanical damage was small (3).
My first step was to make a scan, convert the digital file to a reasonable contrast in Grayscale, and then repair all damage and over-tinting (below).
Once I had a “clean” file I began adding back color, starting with the brightest colors - the brass (below). The “New Brass” looks great at first but it is way too bright. The adjustments to make “Old Brass” included reducing the contrast of the brass areas (the underlying B&W), and reducing the opacity and brightness of the color. I also added digital noise to the color. These are relatively simple Photoshop (PS) techniques that I won’t explain here.
However there is one technique I will describe because it is the heart of digital tinting. Most adjustments in PS are made on stacks of separate layers that lie above the original image, much as you would paint on glass layers. The image below displays the “paint” I used to begin tinting the flesh tones. UGLY!
Layers in PS have a property called the blending mode. Blending dictates how layers interact with each other. One blending mode is “color”, and this mode allows the luminosity (brightness values) of the lower layer to show through the upper painted layer (see below). Again,it looks wonderful at first. However when compared to the remaining B&W areas the tint is too strong.
In the picture below the opacity of the tinted layer was reduced from 100% to 22%. Now the skin looks more normal, but similar work needs to be done to lips, sclara, iris, hair, shirt collar, eye glass frames, hat brim, and coat. How do I choose colors? I look at pictures in my collection, online, and guess with the help of a calibrated monitor.
The original image eye glass frames looked to be clear plactic, so creating a mask to “hide” the flesh color seemed a good idea. My mask (below) looked very odd when I viewed it separately.
It was hard to tell exactly where the frames were on the original, so I used a transform - warp command to make them fit better (below) .
Then I judged the new fit (below ) by viewing the frame mask over the skin tone layer. Here the skin layer has the first (odd) frame cut out for reference.
The next picture shows a better fit. My work flow is to continue making these adjustments with each tint. Then I add a few brush strokes of lighter tints to highlights and darker tints to shadows for smooth transitions.
This last image is the final print for the customer. It may look flat and somewhat washed out but that is typical of hand tinting in old pictures. The coloring must be a light touch or the result is a goofy cartoonish treatment of a valued family treasure.