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Creative hand colouring in Photoshop

Creative hand colouring in Photoshop - Traditional printing guru Max Ferguson turns his hand to Photoshop Photoshop layers to handcolour a black & white image.

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Adobe Photoshop


Words and Pictures Max Ferguson Original image Norma Walton

In times past, young women were expected to have deportment, be versed in the playing of the pianoforte and press the odd flower.
In these days of universal suffrage Norma Walton doesn't press flowers, instead she prefers to photograph and give them her unique treatment in Photoshop.
Her gentle images perfectly suit the burgeoning greeting cards market. Instead of trying to compete for mainstream photographic commissions, Norma has found her niche working on the subjects that interest her and placing them with photo libraries.
Working from her home studio and computer suite Norma also shoots catalogue work directly for the internet, often designing the website for her clients as well. Located in England's West country Norma has found that she can keep her overheads to a minimum and remain in touch with her client base via the Internet Norma's daughter Tanya Carter represents not only Tobi Corney and myself but also keeps Norma up to speed on work in London. Keeping nepotism in the family.

For this image I asked if I could give one of her lovely flower shots a hand colouring treatment of my own. This is essentially a layer stack treatment. With a little lateral thought this simple technique can give rise to many variations.

I've tried to give the image the feel of a Victorian watercolour often painted by young ladies accomplished at the pianoforte.

hand colouring layers1
First we need sufficient layers to mess with, so we will duplicate the back ground layer four times Layer>Duplicate. Double clicking on each layer brings up a dialogue that allows to the layers to be renamed. For this image each layer has the same content. Renaming is the best way of keeping track of which layer is being edited.

hand colouring channel mixer2 Turn layers 2 and 3 into monochrome with the Channel Mixer: Image>Adjust>Channel Mixer. Check the Monochrome box.

hand colouring layers3 Before making any further adjustments to any of the layers make an Alpha Channel selection. In this example the Blue Channel gives the best template from which to make a selection. Increase the contrast with Curves or Levels and paint in the missing detail to complete the Alpha channel selection.

hand colouring mask hand colouring mask 2
4 A hint of my Digital Stocking Filter helps to degrade some of the photographic precision.
  hand colouring   hand colouring
hand colouring gaussian blur    
Select the top colour layer and run Gaussian Blur:Filter>Blur> Gaussian Blur. Select the uppermost of the monochrome layers and repeat Gaussian Blur simply by using the Ctrl+F keystroke. The last applied filter i.e. Gaussian Blur, is repeated at exactly the same settings.
5 The blur has bled into the background. To keep the background absolutely clean, load the Alpha Channel selection: Select>Load Selection, and delete the backgrounds of all the top layers.
    hand colouring      
      hand colouring
Ideally you only need to delete the backgrounds of the blurred layers. To keep it simple I removed all the backgrounds from all the duplicated layers. Soften the edge of the selection first with a small amount of feather: Select>Feather Ctrl+Shift+D. Otherwise the clean background will appear too hard edged next to the blurred flowers.


hand colouring 6 In both the coloured layers the outside flowers are removed with the erase tool, using a soft edged brush.
Many hand coloured photographs are often sepia toned beforehand. The monochrome layers could be grouped with a sepia tone in an adjustment layer.
I tried many different versions, often recycling through the History Pallet to compare various examples. The basics of this are simple - knowing when to stop is the difficult bit.

7 Careful mixing of the top four layers in the layer stack gives a softened monochrome image with some of the flowers appearing as hand coloured. Reducing the opacity of the monochrome layers allows a hint of colour to show through the monochrome flowers as well.

hand colouringhand colouring

About the Author
Max Ferguson is a leading monochrome printer who has worked for many top photographic labs including Joe's Basement and Visualeyes. He has spent many years splashing around with chemicals and his toning techniques are second to none.

Now Max has discovered Photoshop and has recreated many of his traditonal chemical based techniques, like this one, using the digital darkroom.

His book Max Ferguson's Digital Darkroom Masterclass ISBN 0-240-51569-2 is essential reading if you want to learn how to tone, dodge & burn and retouch using the computer. We have teamed up with the Publisher, Focal Press to give UK readers a 10% discount on orders through the Focal Press website. Click here to go direct to the offer page.

Also visit his web site http://home.iprimus.com.au/powermax/
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