One of the possible drawbacks of abandoning the darkroom is the danger that some of the more quirky techniques risk being lost, and the hand-coloring of black-and-white photographs is a good case in point. Before the advent of color film, if a photographer wanted to present his work in color, he was required to apply subtle dyes to a silver gelatin print. This technique has enjoyed a revival in recent years, but it is a time-consuming exercise requiring a fair measure of skill. In order to recreate the delicate colors one associates with this technique, the pigments need to be applied using thin washes; to achieve this digitally, an equal degree of restraint is required.
There are two ways of recreating this “hand-coloring” effect, firstly, by incrementally desaturating an image, or secondly, by desaturating the image completely and then reconstructing the hues using various Photoshop techniques. With either method, it is important that the color remains subdued.
In common with most imitative techniques, it helps to understand how they are achieved in the darkroom before trying to create them digitally. Unquestionably, the most popular method for hand coloring involves using Marshall’s Oils. Similar to traditional oil- paints, these translucent pigments are designed specifically for this purpose, and are applied directly onto the print using wads of cotton wool. The intensity of the color is determined by how thickly these pigments are used, but the emphasis is to keep the outcome subtle. The results are extremely appealing, harnessing the advantages of both color and monochrome. It is also possible to be selective about which areas are colored.