How to Add Color to Black and White Photos in Photoshop

If you have an old family photo in black and white, you’ll love this tutorial.  I will walk you through how to convert a black and white photo into color.  First, let’s take a look at both the initial photo and the finished product:

Black and White Photo

Step 1: Actually, the original photo was a little darker so I had to modify the level parameters.  Go to ‘Image > Adjustments > Level’.  A histogram menu will open. There are three parameters under the graph.  To adjust the light level, I have increased the left value and slightly decreased the right value.  The middle value remained unchanged.  You can choose your values by adjusting the slider until you are satisfied.  Lightening your image may make it a little easier to work with.  Also, ensure your file is in CMYK mode.

Histogram menu

Step 2: Next choose the selection tool.  I like using the polygon lasso but you can use the normal lasso tool if you’d like.  First, I’ll concentrate on the skin.  Select all of the skin including the face, hand, neck and shoulder.  This will require patience, attention and perhaps a few attempts!

Lasso Photo

Step 3: Look at the photo carefully… I have selected her face but excluded her eyes, eyebrows and lips as those colors are different.  To exclude any area of the selected face simply hold down the ‘Option’ key while using the Lasso tool.  To add other areas like the hands and shoulders hold down the ‘Shift’ key.  After all of the skin has been selected, press ‘q’ on your keyboard.  This will unleash the quick masking option which will turn all other areas pink.  Touch up areas of the skin that are pink using the eraser.  To smoothen the mask add a little gaussian blur effect and then hit ‘q’ again.

Mask Photo

Step 4: Next, go to ‘Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curve’ or click on the half black circle icon beneath the layer panel and select ‘Curve’.  This will create a new layer.  In the dialog box, name the adjustment layer as ‘Skin’ and check the box to use the previous layer as the clipping mask.  When you hit ‘OK’ a new graph box will appear.  Click the drop down menu beside the text ‘CMYK’ and select every color one by one.  Change the shape of the curve so that the graph will look like this:

Adjust Layer Curve

When you click ‘OK’ you will see the magic!  His/her face has changed into color!  Of course, you will need to adjust the curves in the previous step according to the skin color you are trying to achieve.

Skin Color

Step 5: Now that we’ve covered the basic, you can follow the same method to colorize the hair, lips and clothes.  For every each set of uniquely-colored items, create a new adjustment layer and modify the color curves accordingly.  For her hair and lips, I have used these two settings:

Hair and Lips Color Curves

Step 6: Because I want her hair to have have blue hair and brown lipstick, I’ve raised the blue curve for the hair layer and raised the red curve for the lips with a mix of black.  My final photo looks like this:

Black and White Photo turned to Color

That concludes this tutorial.  Best of luck bringing your black and white photos to life with color!