How to Colorize Black-and-White HDR Images

Colorizing (often called tinting or toning) high dynamic range (HDR) black-and-white images overlays one, two, or more colors over the black-and-white image, resulting in an aged or other creative effect. For example, sepia-toned images that have the appearance of aging are created this way.

There are several ways to approach colorizing images, depending on the application you use to edit your images. Although you can experiment and use these methods prior to creating the HDR image (much like converting brackets to black-and-white before generating the HDR image and tone mapping it), the examples here use a completed tone mapped image.

Using Elements to colorize HDR Images

Photoshop Elements has a few interesting ways to colorize images. They are easy to use although limited. For example, you can’t colorize while you convert the image to black and white nor use the Duotone mode like in Photoshop.

Most of the time, you convert color images to black and white by choosing Enhance→Convert to Black and White. You can’t colorize while doing that. However, if you convert to black and white by desaturating the image by choosing Enhance→Adjust Color→Adjust Hue/Saturation, you can colorize.

Colorize HDR images using the Hue/Saturation dialog box

The easiest solution is to first convert the image to black and white, and then choose Enhance→Adjust Color→Adjust Hue/Saturation.

Select the Colorize check box and then adjust the Hue and Saturation sliders accordingly. Hue controls the color, and Saturation controls intensity. You can also modify the overall brightness of the image with the Lightness slider. When finished, click OK. See the effects in this figure on a tone mapped photo adjusted for an old, blown-out look.

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Colorize HDR images by applying color layers

An alternate approach is to use color layers, which allows you to blend more than one color, and even erase and blend the colors in creative ways. You could have blue-tinted shadows and gold-tinted highlights, for example. To use color layers, follow these steps on an image already converted to black and white:

  1. Create a color fill layer by choosing Layer→New Fill Layer→Solid Color.

  2. In the New Layer dialog box that appears, click OK.

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  3. Choose a color from the Color Picker, and then click OK.

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    You can choose a basic color from the vertical rainbow and then select a specific hue (light or dark, intense or muted) from the large color box in the middle. Or, you can enter color values in the HSB, RGB, or Web color boxes.

  4. From the Layers palette, open the drop-down list to change the blending mode from Normal to Color.

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    Blending modes affect whether and how layers on top allow other layers to show through. Normally, they don’t allow other layers to show through because they’re opaque. You can change this behavior, which is what you’re counting on to colorize the image.

  5. Lower the color layer opacity to blend by using the Opacity slider on the Layers palette.

    The Opacity slider controls the color intensity, as shown in the figure. The black-and-white image should show through even at 100% because you changed the blend mode to color.

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    If you have more than one color layer, all except the very bottom one must have an opacity less than 100% to allow the bottom ones to show through.

  6. Add more color layers if desired.

  7. Blend by erasing areas you don’t want colorized.

    This allows you to isolate colors from different layers and have them apply to specific areas of the image.