Colorizing Photoshoppers Put a New Spin on Old Historical Photos


There’s an awesome little subreddit that has been getting a lot of press coverage as of late. It’s called ColorizedHistory, and is a 20,000+ person strong community of “Amateur Historians” who are interested in the idea of creating high quality colorized versions of historical black-and-white photographs.

Unlike many other subreddits, this community is quite exclusive when it comes to submitted content. It’s not open to new contributors, and only a select number of Photoshop gurus on an approved list of submitters are allowed to submit colorized works. The rest of the community follows, enjoys, and comments on these pieces.

The colorized photographs themselves are from different eras in history. Some were created using old tintypes from the mid-1800s. Others are more recent, showing B&W scenes captured just decades ago.

All of them are the result of hours of careful editing by professional and amateur Photoshoppers who have both an eye for color and a desire to see what historical images would look like today if color photography had existed in past ages.

Here’s a photograph of General Joseph Hooker, captured by photographer Mathew Brady in 1862:


…and a colorized version of that photograph by Mads Madsen, who can also be found on his website and on Facebook:


Here’s a 1936 photo by Dorothea Lange showing drought refugees waiting for the opening of the orange picking season in Porterville, California:


…and a colorized version by Cyriel Roumen:


Here’s a wet plate collodion photo of President Theodore Roosevelt, captured around 1900:


…and a colorized version created by Will Doran


Here’s a 1910 picture by Lewis Wickes Hine showing newspaper boys taking a smoking break in St. Louis, Missouri:


…and a colorized version by Paul Edwards, who can also be found on Facebook:


Here’s another photo by Hine titled “Powerhouse Mechanic,” captured in 1921:


…and a colorized version by Malakon:


Here’s a 1936 photograph by Dorothea Lange titled “Georgia peach pickers eating”:


…and a colorized version by Jordan J. Lloyd, who can also be found on Facebook:


Here’s a 1915 photograph taken in Saratoga Springs, New York, titled “Broadway at the United States Hotel”:


…and a colorized version by Sanna Dullaway, who can also be found on Facebook and through her website:


Here’s a 1923 photo showing W.H. Murphy and an associate testing a bulletproof vest in Washington D.C.:


…and a colorized version by Mads Madsen:


Here’s a 1945 photograph by photographer Toni Frissell showing a boy standing in front of the rubble of his home after London was bombed from above:


…and a colorized version by Andreas Larsson:


A photo of the Hindenburg airship disaster in 1937:


…and a colorized version by Dana Keller, who can also be found on Facebook:


Here’s a wet plate collodion photo titled “Nashville, Tennessee. View from Capitol,” captured by photographer George N. Barnard in 1864:


…and a colorized version by Sanna Dullaway:


Here’s a 1939 photograph by Dorothea Lange showing an unemployed lumber worker:


…and a colorized version of that photograph by Mads Madsen:


A portrait of General Gershom Mott captured by Mathew Brady in 1964:


…and a colorized version of that photograph by Mads Madsen:


A 1939 photograph by Dorothea Lange showing a lazy Sunday at a country store in North Carolina:


…and a colorized version by Jordan J. Lloyd:


A 1945 photograph by army private Ralph Forney, showing a German concentration camp at Wobbelin after the U.S. Ninth Army discovered the inmates there:


…and a colorized version by Andreas Larsson:


A photograph of a Washington D.C. car crash in 1921:


…and a colorized version by Sanna Dullaway:


Here’s a photograph by photographer George W. Ackerman showing a Texan farmer reading a paper in 1931:


…and a colorized version by Paul Edwards:


You can find these photographs and more by paying a visit to the ColorizedHistory subreddit over on Reddit.

ColorizedHistory [Reddit via TwistedSifter via Fstoppers]

  • Óran Desmond

    Wow some of these are really great especially “Nashville, Tennessee. View from Capitol,” lazy Sunday and the concentration camp.

  • tyrohne

    The Nashville TN View from Capitol is just lovely. I am in awe.

  • wickerprints

    The ones by Sanna Dullaway are the most convincing to me. The problem with most colorization attempts is that there’s not enough nuance in color–for example, foliage is given a single green hue, when it is actually many different hues of green. Similarly, skin color is complex, with different parts of the face or body having different tones, because of the varying proximity and density of capillaries to the surface of the skin. Too uniform a saturation is also an issue. The information simply is not present in the original black-and-white; to create it from scratch requires an intimate understanding of color, and moreover, how the reflectance of different objects affects the color of neighboring objects.

  • Chuck Coverly

    I’m really impressed with some of these. VERY well done, especially the subtle skin tones and colors on General Mott’s face. Kudos!

  • ramanauskas

    Disgusting. These are lies. Charming lies, but lies. If they added photorealist scenes to show what they want you to think was outside the frame, would that be OK, too?

  • ramanauskas

    Do they have anything at all to do with the actual skin tones and colors of his face? They do not.

  • tonyc0101

    Some of these must’ve been taken with a 5DM2…I just know it! OUTSTANDING work on a lot of these!!

  • Ayden Gotzmer

    Agreed! That one was the most stunning of them all.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Maybe just me, I prefer the B&W’s.

  • Sarpent

    Sure they’re lies. But black and white photos are lies as well. Black and white is the original, and easiest, photographic manipulation — and has been since the beginning of photography.

  • Caca Milis

    I love BW shots but seeing them in colour is even more awesome!

  • Sarpent

    Does the black and white image have anything to do with the actual skin tones and colors of his face?

  • BrokenHelix79

    All photography is a lie. In every photo ever taken, reality has been manipulated in some way, especially when it’s done in black and white.

    Get over yourself.

  • harumph

    The two examples by Jordan J Lloyd are, to my eyes, the most convincing by far. The rest have that hand-tinted look that I’ve never cared for. And Lloyd’s skin tones are way more natural looking than the rest.

  • Fernando Callo

    This is really impressive

  • William Doran

    BW photography, in most cases (BW art photography excluded), is a lie as well, an inaccurate depiction of the world forced by technological limitation. If technology gives us today the opportunities that it obstructed back then, I think it noble to take advantage of it.

  • Jordan J. Lloyd

    Thank you harumph, you’re very kind.

  • kassim

    Just like the natural setting for a out-of-camera jpeg. Like it!

  • David

    Wow, great way to ruin classic B&W images. Does the color really add to Lewis Hine’s mechanic. To me it distracts from the awesome composition. Does color add something of value to the concentration camp photo. Seems more appropriate in B&W as Dorthea Lange’s FSA photographs. I just see no real purpose in this exercise i’m afraid. The only one i like is the Nashville Capitol shot with the purple sky.

  • BrokenHelix79

    The purpose is to exhibit a dedicated skill and talent using computer software as tools to add new life and dimension to existing works.

    It’s not as if the original images are being painted over, rendering them lost forever. The originals still exist, and always will, but for those who enjoy seeing moments in history in a new way, it’s a pretty cool display of that talent I mentioned earlier.

  • George

    Interesting how it distorts OUR sense of historical placement. To see the original B&W looks “right”, because the clothing style, the architecture, the model of vehicle or even the person or incident is ingrained in our brain as having happened in the “B&W era”. So the Hindenburg example looks wrong and very non-photographic to me. But the real distortion has already occurred in that we “almost” think that there was no colour in the past. (Like their vehicles, everything only came in black!) I’m willing to bet that none of us would have second-guessed the “Nashville, Tennessee. View from Capitol” colourized photo if we hadn’t first been presented with the B&W version – there is very little if anything in it to suggest that it hadn’t been taken just yesterday.
    Would be interesting to see how other mono-chromatic pre-photography media such as wood prints would look colourized. But I’d feel uncomfortable watching a colourized version of an old movie – not from any sense of horror that someone would dare to tamper with someone else’s work of art, but from my own brain trying to adjust to the “more accurate” image being presented.

  • JoanieGranola

    I’ll be the lone dissenter on this — I’ve always been against colorizing black and whites. Ted Turner did it to old movies and ruined them, now someone went and Turnerized old photos. They’re well done, but color sort of takes something away from them.

  • Photos Capture the West

    What’s more remarkable is the work of the postcard publishers such as Detroit Publishing Company who converted black and white images to color in 1898-1930. The postcards and Photochrom prints have the same colors today as they had 115 years ago. This was pre-digitization.

  • C. Scott Relleve

    The beauty of this is that instead of the past being viewed in this rose-colored lenses (or in this case, in black and white lenses), we see the past closer to how people back in the day used to see it – in color. It helps the people today relate to the past, instead of seeing the past as this black and white pulp publication fiction that modern day individuals couldn’t relate to, a world in the past that is distant from our own today.

    Yeah sure, old colorized movies may be a little “off” at times, but we now have the technology to closer replicate reality as well as talented individuals who know how to make use of this technology. so it can only get better from this point on. It’s not ruining the old black and white photographs – they’re still there for those who are still interested in viewing them, it’s just that we can now make digital copies so as not to ruin the original.

  • plolbg

    some of these are really cool, some are obscenely offensive. I’m not sure I’ve figured out where exactly the line is.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Probably the most intelligent observation I’ve seen posted here George. You raise good points. If there were excellent color photographs of 1930’s era people, technology, etc. we would automatically think they were doctored or staged based on how we have been “trained” to see them.

  • JerseySide

    That list picture is obviously a fake. A progressive farmer in TEXAS in 1931? C’mon. We’re not THAT stupid.

  • Coloreyes

    Apparently yes…Progressive farmer have been transfer from a newspaper to a magazine around 1908. Have been Founded in 1886.
    Keep up the good work! stunning image

  • Eugene Chok

    hahahaha for some reason i feel like i am in lightroom clicking bw to colour over and over trying to decide which one works better

  • Lauren

    The ones that wowed me most were the car crash & the “Broadway at the US Hotel”. The colorization of the car crash in particular just looks so natural to me. Least favorite is the Nashville Tennessee one. Interestingly all three are by the same artist. My issue with the Tennessee colorization is how she chose to depict the sky… to me the original photo looks like a rainy day that’s clearing up, with that intense brightness you sometimes get through thinning clouds. I realize the sunset colors were an artistic choice, but to me they seem campy.

    I understand why some commenters prefer the black & whites, and in general I think I do too.. but I appreciate the artistry that went into these remakes, and the level of respect and commitment the artists had for the project. I also agree with George that having color images of these periods of history really jars us, because we’re so used to thinking of those times as black & white, and allows us to connect a little better with the scenes.

  • Mark Davidson

    There are color images from WW I and the early 20th century taken on Autochrome plates. Color continues all the way from there in increasing amounts. As George points out, our familiarity with the volumes of B&W images “color” or perception of the past. Interestingly we have very colorful memories of the aristocracy of Europe from the colorful paintings of them.

  • J

    This is great, thank you! And, about photography being a “lie”, well it’s not. It’s only an interpretation of what was happening then and there.

  • richardsonad

    I don’t think anyone said these were “better” only that they were cool and an impressive testament to the retoucher’s skills. Settle down.

  • avon

    Major typo! Matthew Brady didn’t photograph any Civil War generals in 1964; better make that caption to the portrait of General Mott say “1864.” The colorization is painstaking, so why not put a moment’s thought into the captioning. (Although that is one of several in which the original photography is so striking that the color detracts. I see vividly now why some photographers deliberately, and sometimes always, eschew color.)

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    Great picture of the crashed car. With some colour it could be from a movie set. These images really bring the past to life.