What Colour was Your Great-grandmother's Hair?


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I've just made another Photoshop video. This one is about colour tinting (or “colorizing") an old photo. You may not know this, but back in the 1800's - long before colour photography was invented - people used to hand-tint black and white photographs with coloured inks or water-colour paints, and I wanted to achieve that type of effect. Tinting monochrome prints using Photoshop is considerably less messy!

The photo I decided to use was a recently restored photo of my maternal great-grandmother (my mother's, mother's, mother). It was taken sometime in the late 1880's when she probably in her late teens. It's a typical Victorian studio portrait: Great-grandma is wearing her best dress, is standing against a painted background of a garden, and has one hand resting on a rustic looking chair.

The only thing I knew for certain was that Great-grandma had blue eyes, every other colour was a conjecture. Her dress was a dark colour, and after experimenting with a few different colours, I decided that navy blue looked best. I coloured in the background light green - although it could have been cyan. The bamboo chair was obviously a bamboo colour. That just left the colour of her hair to try and figure out.

My maternal grandmother had strawberry-blonde hair in her younger days (I've seen colour photos of her when she was young) but when I tried to colour her mother's hair that colour, it just didn't look right. Too light. Auburn? No, that didn't look right either. I asked my mother, but she had no idea. Great-grandma was a white-haired old lady by the time my mother came along.

The only thing I could do was just to play about with the colour sliders until her hair looked “right". That's when I made a profound discovery: my great-grandmother's hair was brown - like mine! It was the only colour that looked natural.

My great-grandmother and I never met, but thanks to Photoshop, I now have a better idea of what she looked like than would have been possible just from a black and white photo.

I've posted her picture on my webpage.

Shaun Pearce is a writer and video maker. His latest production “Photoshop Master" shows you how to get the most from Photoshop, and can be downloaded from http://www.learnphotoshopfast.com.


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