The Magic of Color

Val Erde of the Colouring the Past blog recently sent out an invitation to bloggers to try her colorization services for free. I’d seen what she did for Luanne of The Family Kalamazoo and so was intrigued by her offer. Under the terms of her invitation, she would select an appropriate black and white photograph, and if I approved of her choice, she would colorize it.

Val selected a wonderful photograph of my great-aunt Betty Goldschlager Feuerstein, my grandfather’s little sister. I asked Betty’s grandchildren if they were comfortable with having the photograph colorized, and those who responded were also intrigued. When I received Val’s finished work and shared it with them, the granddaughters all were thrilled and said that Val had brought their grandmother back to life. Unfortunately I never met Betty, but I also can see what a great job Val did.

Here is the original and Val’s rendition in color:

Betty Goldschlager Feuerstein

betty-goldschlager 1st Draft

Colorized by Val Erde 2019

Pretty remarkable, isn’t it? Val will be available to respond to any questions or comments posted in connection with this post.

67 thoughts on “The Magic of Color

  1. I am truly impressed by Val’s colourization of Betty’s portrait. We must not forget, however, that one needs a great b/w portrait to begin with to do a good colourizing job. Also living in the digital era, we need not touch the original photo, but simply make a copy for the colourization process. Val did a fantastic job in bringing Betty back in living colours.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thanks, Amy. This is quite remarkable. I would, however, add that when a photograph is colorized, it does change the history of it. So it must always include a note that it was colorized and the date it was colorized so that future generations do not mistake it for the original. Her dress is beautiful colorized, but is it accurate for the time period? We have no idea what the original color of her dress was, so by citing the date of the colorization, we won’t pass down incorrect information about the photograph.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s an excellent point, Ava. I am going to label the image of the photo that I received from Val (since it’s only a digital image, not an actual photograph or a colorized photograph) and also the image on my blog. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ava did make an excellent point, Amy. But labelling the image won’t help it be identified as a digital colouring as the captioning below the photo only applies to it while it’s in your blog. Once the image appears outside of your blog (for instance, in Google’s image search), or if someone downloads it from your blog, that text will be gone. If you like, I can put some text on the coloured photo itself but, as I said to Ava, copyright text can be removed by particularly determined people.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Please don’t put text on the image. My reference to labeling it was within the context of putting the image in a family tree or book. Because color photographs in the form of autochrome did exist at the time, it wouldn’t be correct to not label the colorization as a modern addition to the original. For purposes of genealogy research, any alteration of the image should be documented but not on the image itself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ava, then how would we deal with the problem of someone simply downloading the image without the caption? That is the most likely way that these images will be distributed in today’s world.


      • I’m not a technical person but I do know that there are ways to embed information so that photos cannot be downloaded or printed. If you really don’t want people to take a photo off the Net then the only real way to avoid that is to not put it on in the first place. It’s a sticky wicket. That’s why I’m not in favor of altering photos. But the colorized ones are nice and many people like them. So it’s an individual call.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am not aware of anything that prevents someone from downloading a photo on a blog. Do you know who might know? I generally have a watermark on my photos and a copyright notice on my blog, but I know that that does nothing to scare off those who are determined to steal the work of others.


    • Thanks, Ava. You make a very good point about something that bugs the hell out of me when I see what purport to be original colour photos (such as autochromes and their ilk) and find out they’ve been digitally coloured. People really SHOULD put on the photos that they’ve been coloured as otherwise they’re very easy to mistake for the real thing. However, it’s very easy to remove copyright text so if someone really did want to pass something off as real, that wouldn’t help. Alas, that’s just a fact about the internet and some of the people who use it for the wrong reasons.

      These colourings are not intended to take the place of the originals. And, I cannot know the true colours, you’re right. But yes, this colour is true to the period. Also, Amy told me that – according to her relatives – in later years apparently her great-aunt Betty used to love wearing pinks so, knowing that people tend to develop their later tastes based on what they liked when younger, I went with that and went with a warm palette. It’s quite possible to do the necessary research when starting out. There are museums dedicated to displaying antique and vintage clothing and, providing one takes fading and staining into account, it’s possible to use what one has learnt from them to provide a good basis. And of course there are also other, mostly online, resources available. I’ve been digitally colouring photos since I first had a computer and a graphics program – quite a long time now – and over the years have built up a kind of instinct for what to use.

      As for the digital colouring changing the history of a photo – I like to think of it as a peek into a possible past, rather than an actual delve into history. I always display my colourings, in my own blog, beside the original and I mark them as colourings and restorations. If you have a look at the link I gave to Debi Austen, you’ll be able to read my thoughts on originals vs. colourings and restorations.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for posting this, Amy. I’ll reply to the comments a little later – some interesting points made in them. 🙂 Glad you – and your cousins – are happy with the colouring.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy, the difference between the two photographs is amazing. However, I personally do not like to see this kind of touch up work. Mainly due to the point Ava brought up about our not really knowing if the colors are right – not only for clothing but also hair color. Some exceptions would be uniforms were colors were known, clothing or scraps of clothing which were saved, and eye and hair color mentioned in documents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so interesting to read the different reactions. I definitely can see the issues with colorization, but also enjoy seeing the possibility of what the colors might have been.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comment, Cathy. Most of what I’d like to say to you in reply, I’ve said to Ava, so maybe read my reply to her? And just to add a bit to that, Amy’s relatives were helpful with hair colour of Betty from when she was older, as they knew her, so I had a fairly good idea of the correct colouring. This is one of the reasons I always involve people in the colourings of their family photos. Where there is knowledge of relatives, often passed down, it’s helpful to know of it. But think about this: even with black and white or sepia photos, we can’t know the exact colours people were wearing on any given day, we just have to imagine it. It’s never been and never will be my intention to detract from the originals – either the subjects or the photographers’ skill or choices.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It has been interesting reading the comments with this posting. I love the colorization job that Val did. The highest of quality for sure (I think so) I love both photos and feel they have equal value along with all that has been pointed out. I was intriqued with the hint of the (is that a) double pearl ring on the right hand? One precious treasure was a double pearl ring of a grandmother that was handed down to me and now me to a daughter. There is that single diamond solitare ring too, I wonder if this could be an engagement photo?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think Sharon has it – there’s a lovely diamond solitaire on Betty’s left hand. The clothing is right for the early 1920s – the collar would have been stiffened and then beaded. I come from a long line of packrats and my own grandmother had a dress of a similar style. (She never threw out ANY thing!) And I love the color Val chose – absolutely perfect.


    • Oh, I know all about copyright—I taught it for 30 years! I thought Ava was referring to some technology that prevented someone from downloading an image found online. Copyright law can’t do that, and suing someone for copyright infringement is more trouble than its worth for a random photograph.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I looked at that site, and the “technical” fixes like adding tiling or layers are not explained well, and I have no idea how to “change the HTML code” on my images. Nor do I know how to disable right-click functionality. I wish the author had at least provided links to sites that would explain those things. At any rate, I will just keep hoping that people won’t steal images.


      • I suppose, really, that the info is aimed at people with self-hosted blogs rather than those, like us, on – self-hosters have more control over their blogs. That said, a certain amount of HTML can be altered even here in the other tab of the post editor.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I am always more partial to a photo. Since the photo is in good condition the colorized portrait is just like a painting. I like it but at the same time I prefer a photo. I’d prefer getting the photo restored to having a portrait in color. It feels somewhat removed to me. Still lovely all the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both of your comments came through. I always moderate comments, but alas, I am not always at my computer, so sometimes there is a lag between a comment being made and being approved and published. Sorry!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I do not know if my previous comment got through. Here is a refined version with some added input.

    Betty looks beautiful in the colorized image. It reminds me of a portrait and it can be framed and displayed with great joy and pride.

    I’m not a digital artist but I’d say the success of this colorization is due to the very good condition and clarity of the original B&W image.

    I think having an old photo colorized is a matter of personal preference. It should be up to the person and their choice respected.

    For myself, it is a matter of limited financial resources. This is an expensive pursuit or hobby or lifestyle, whatever you make of being a family historian. If I had to make a decision, I’d go with having an original photo restored as best as possible. Having that available can then bring the possibility of a colorization within the reach of family who might want to choose that option on their own.

    I treasure the colorized photos that were made during the time period the photo was taken. My Mom paid for studio portraits taken before her graduation from high school. She also had them colorized and told me how she went over the proofs and was very particular about the results. In this sense I get a bit of her aesthetic and sensibility through the approved colorized photo. It also draws us into the sensibility of that era (1947).

    Modern colorizations are different. They can recreate a sense of what it was like and should be taken at that.

    As much as I like the colorized portrait of Betty I prefer the B&W photo. Just my preference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Obviously you are not alone in your preference. As I’ve commented before, I see the benefits of colorization and also the possible downsides if people are misled. As someone interested in history, I would never post the color version as a substitute for the black and white version, but I do see the beauty of adding color.

      Liked by 1 person

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