Have you seen a "colorized" old photo? They're amazing!

If you've ever wondered how it's done and what goes into the amazing process, we have the answers (and quite a few photos to feast your eyes on).

I recently interviewed expert photo colorizer, Marina Amaral. As you will see, Marina has worked with the most famous photos from history, as well as many family's most treasured pictures.

Her work is impressive, and she was kind enough to share some of her methods and perspectives with us.

You can visit Marina's website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter to see the amazing photos she shares.


Broad Street looking north to the intersection with Wall Street New York City.Marina Amaral http://www.marinamaral.com/

Q: For those unfamiliar with photo colorization, can you tell us a little bit about exactly what you do and how you got involved in this unique field?

A: Photo colorization is a complex process that requires a lot of study, research, prior historical knowledge and a lot of patience.

Each photograph takes a different amount of time to complete, which means it may take me hours or even days to achieve a final result.

The first thing I have to do before I begin the colorization itself is to dedicate a few hours to research. I need to find references for things like

  • The uniform color (if it is a military image)
  • The colors of clothing that were more common at that specific era
  • Modern photographs of the location where the picture was taken

This helps me reproduce as faithfully as possible the original atmosphere of the image.

After this intense process of research, I can start the colorization part. The process is similar to that of a traditional painting. I work with many different layers, throwing colors upon colors until I reach the result that I want. I use Photoshop, but everything is made manually. There is nothing in my images that have been done automatically.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and James Farmer, January 1964.Marina Amaral http://www.marinamaral.com/

Q: Can you describe a little bit about your non-technical process when colorizing a photo? How do you decide what colors to use? Is there any historical research involved to make sure colors are accurate?

A: The research process is the most important part - I have to dedicate myself to finding as many references for the picture as possible, and often need to rely on the opinion of experts in a specific area as well. For instance, when I had to colorize an image that had some different birds on it, so I had to ask for the help of a person who studies birds to find out the colors I should use.

Sometimes, however, some of the pictures are very old and there is not enough information available to cover all the necessary aspects. In that case I just have to make an educated guess and use my personal judgement.

Captain Thomas H. Garahan, 'Easy' Company, 2nd Battalion, 398th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division raises the 'Stars and Stripes' flag made secretly by a local French girl, Rue Colonel Teyssier in the town of Bitche, Moselle department of Lorraine, northeastern France.Marina Amaral http://www.marinamaral.com/

Q: What about the technical stuff? What program do you use? How long does it take for the average photo?

I use Photoshop. A simple portrait can be done in 2-3 hours, but a big and complex image can take me many days to complete.

Q: When colorizing a famous photo from history, how do you think it can change our historical understanding for the better?

A: I think the colors make it easy to create a personal connection with history. When I colorize a picture, I feel like I'm recreating an event that could have happened yesterday. Black and white photos are wonderful and powerful, but they can create an obstacle for this connection happen in a more intimate and deep level.

Follow Marina on Facebook

Marina Amaral http://www.marinamaral.com/

Q: Do people often submit their own family photos for you to colorize? Why would someone want this kind of service for their own picture? How much input do they have in deciding what colors to use?

A: Yes, I'm always working with family photos. The reason why so many people send them to me is the same as I said before: when I finish and I send the final product to them, it feels like they are living that moment again just looking at the picture.

They are always very touched and pleased by how it looks after the restoration and colorization. Sometimes the photos are very damaged by the years and they ask me to restore it as well.

I can usually recreate photos perfectly, restoring missing parts of the body, taking off rips, dirt, scratches, stains, and giving the client the opportunity to have that picture in perfect condition.

A liberated inmate of Wöbbelin concentration camp, a sub-camp of Neuengamme concentration camp, breaks into tears after he is informed that he is unable to leave the camp with the first transport of sick inmates to the hospital.Marina Amaral http://www.marinamaral.com/

Q: What's your favorite well-know historical photo you have ever colorized?

A: My favorite is the "Inmates At Wobbelin Concentration Camp" for a few reasons. The original photograph had was pretty good quality, which gave me the opportunity to explore some details that are really important and to create a powerful and realistic colorization - for instance, the very strong light.

I also have a profound relationship with the holocaust. I don't have a personal connection with the victims, but I feel deeply involved with this specific period of our history for some unknown reason.

I feel like I need to do something to keep it fresh in people's mind, and hopefully, it will never happen again. This picture is very emotional and I like how it looks in color.

John and Jacqueline KennedyMarina Amaral http://www.marinamaral.com/

Q: What's the most interesting personal photo you've ever colorized? (assuming you can't provide a copy, but a story would be great)

A: I'm currently working on a panoramic photograph of a Chicago avenue in the 60's. It is very interesting because it has several well-known symbols, vintage boards, historical cars, different buildings that no longer exist, and many other details of composition. It's a private work for a client, but he already gave me permission to make it available in my portfolio within a few days.

More work from Marina