The iceberg image is what I came up with after my first crack at colorizing. I made it in Adobe Photoshop, the tool of choice for modern colorizers.
The earliest colorizers, to whom Photoshop surely would have seemed like witch magic, instead used tangible tools like stencils and dyes to paint the physical film.
On Photoshop, the basic premise is actually quite simple. To start, you select a brush, pick a color and trace. It's like digital coloring. Then, you decrease the opacity of the brushes to let some of the texture of the original image through, giving colorized photos a distinct realism.
The more details and colors involved in a project, the more difficult it becomes. My iceberg, for example, is a very basic example of a colorization. It is nothing when compared to an image of a crowded restaurant, for example.
Advanced colorizers have their own techniques – most utilize the full array of Photoshop tools.
Matthew Mohr is the moderator of the 5,000 reader-strong colorization community on Reddit, /r/Colorization
That innocent-looking white hunk above is actually the murderous iceberg that sunk the Titanic, tragically killing more than 1,500 people. It is one of just two known photographs taken of this berg. Icebergs move around, and after awhile, they melt. The odds seem slim that we should have any photographic evidence of this particular iceberg.
If you look closely, it's marked with a dark, wispy stripe left by the Titanic as its proud red hull scrapped the berg's middle.
The chief steward of a German ocean liner, the SS Prinz Adalbert, snapped the photo on April 15, 1912 just twelve hours after the Titanic sank. Out at sea, he was uniquely unaware of the disaster. He probably only took the photograph out of shock – imagine his surprise at giant red stripe scraped across the iceberg's side!
The other photo of the infamous berg was taken by the captain of a cable ship who knew of the incident and rushed to the scene to gather corpses and debris. According to the captain, the red-striped iceberg was the only one around. He knew the culprit on sight.
For the captains, it was the stripe that grabbed their attention so much that they had to document what they saw with a picture. But from their photos, I find it hard to imagine what they were seeing. They're grainy like as if taken by a security camera and more importantly are without any color.
Were it not for the lack of other famous icebergs, the average person would be unable to guess the significance of this particular ice hunk looking at the either of the sea captains' photos.
Below is a colorization, or colored rendering, of the old photo. After a colorization, the red of the Titanic's hull is seen splashed on the iceberg's side with dramatic results. It's the color of blood. One can't help but remember the many deaths, making the photo symbolic in a way a black and white photo cannot.
Anything black and white is old, Mohr said, and it's true that grayscale does an old photo no favors. This black and white portrait of Lincoln is among other things, just a reminder that it's been a long time since he's been in office. The picture wears it's age like a mask.
"Now we're coloring them in, now history is cooler to look at," Mohr said, "They had pink in their fingernails, they didn't have perfect teeth, they had dark circles under their eyes. They were just people.
Therein lies the power of a colorized photo: it irons out the wrinkles of time. It allows us to look at images and consider them in a modern context.
For Mohr, the image doesn't have to be a celebrity. He's equally interested in personal projects that crop up so frequently on the /r/Colorization subreddit.
"To be the first person to ever see some of these relics of the past in full color is really something," Mohr said, "In many ways, photography of the past has become the coloring book of the future."
According to Mohr, the colorization process is time-consuming and requires much patience and attention to detail.
"It reminds me a lot of acting like a craftsmen or a watchmaker, hunkering over and making sure everything gets fixed just right," Mohr said, "Only instead of a watch, it's someone's grandparent or a burnt piece of sentimentality."
"IT REMINDS ME A LOT OF ACTING LIKE A CRAFTSMEN OR A WATCHMAKER, HUNKERING OVER AND MKING SURE EVERYTHING GETS FIXED JUST RIGHT."
That sentimentality seems to be a common motivating factor for many members of the colorization community. Colorization requests on the Reddit page are often for old photographs of family members and often with the intention of giving the revamped image as a gift. There are plenty of Photoshop whizzes willing to help a stranger colorize their family photos and most are happy to do the work for free. Reddit user Zoradia, whose real name is Nathalie, got some help from Reddit users to make a sentimental Father's Day gift for her boyfriend's father, who took her into his house after she had problems with her mother. She had two antique photos of his parents colorized and merged them into one frame so they could be seen at the same time.
"He happily opened it up and at first he was unsure of what he saw, until he tilted it left and right to get a better look. The look on his face was priceless and then came the words: “This is a really touching present, thank you so much.”
Sanna Dullaway, may be the most well-known and certainly the most publicized colorizer, also happens to be one of only people with an established hourly rate for their work: $75 per hour for private work, $145 per hour for commercial.
Dullaway colorizes historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Che Guevara and Albert Einstein. Her work has been featured on the web by Time, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and many others.
(US Coast Guard)
A return to color
by John Wernecke
Published June 11, 2013