top of page

The History of Photo Colourisation

Updated: Mar 11

Photography has been a captivating medium for capturing moments in time since its invention in the 19th century. However, for many years, these images remained in a monochromatic world, devoid of the vibrant hues that characterize our daily lives. The art of colourising photos emerged as a ground breaking technique that breathed new life into historical images, allowing us to connect with the past on a more visceral level. In this blog post, we will delve into the fascinating history of colourising photos, tracing its evolution from early manual methods to the sophisticated digital techniques employed today.

A Photo for Photo Colourisation
Sepia Portrait

Photo Colourisation Results
Coloured IMage

Early Attempts at Hand-Coloured Photography:

The desire to bring colour to black-and-white photographs predates the advent of digital technology. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hand-colouring techniques were employed to add colour to photographs manually. Skilled artists, often trained in painting or illustration, meticulously added colour to prints using watercolours, oils, or dyes. This painstaking process allowed for a more nuanced and realistic representation of the scenes captured.

Autochrome Lumière: Pioneering Colour Photography:

In the early 20th century, the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, revolutionized photography with the invention of Autochrome plates. Introduced in 1907, Autochrome Lumière was the first commercially successful colour photography process. It utilized a mosaic of microscopic grains of potato starch dyed in red, green, and blue, creating a filter layer on the photographic plate. Autochrome plates allowed photographers to capture full-colour images directly, eliminating the need for manual colouring.

The Golden Age of Hollywood and Hand-Tinting:

As the film industry flourished in the early to mid-20th century, hand-colouring continued to play a role in bringing glamour to the silver screen. Movie studios employed skilled artists to hand-tint publicity stills and posters to make them more visually appealing. This era marked the heyday of hand-tinting, with iconic images of movie stars and promotional material benefiting from the artistry of skilled colourists.

Transition to Digital Photo Colourisation:

While hand-colouring remained popular for several decades, the advent of digital technology in the late 20th century paved the way for a more accessible and versatile approach to colourising photos. The rise of computers and sophisticated software allowed artists to digitally manipulate black-and-white images, adding colour with precision and control. This marked a significant shift from the labour-intensive manual methods of the past.

Advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning:

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning algorithms have taken centre stage in the field of photo colourisation. Leveraging neural networks, researchers and developers have created algorithms that can automatically add colour to black-and-white photos with astonishing accuracy. These AI-powered tools analyse the grayscale values in a photo and intelligently predict appropriate colour information, producing remarkably realistic results.

Ethical Considerations:

While the ability to colourise photos has undoubtedly enriched our visual experience of historical images, it has also sparked ethical debates. Critics argue that colourisation may alter the historical accuracy of photographs, potentially influencing the way we perceive historical events. Striking a balance between enhancing visual appeal and preserving historical integrity remains a challenge for artists and enthusiasts alike.

Photo For colourisation
Black and White

Colourised Photo
Photo Colourisation Project


The history of colourising photos is a captivating journey that spans centuries, from the early hand-colouring techniques to the sophisticated AI-driven processes of today. This evolving art form has not only breathed new life into historical images but has also sparked conversations about the intersection of technology, art, and historical representation. As we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of photo colourisation, we must remain mindful of the delicate balance between artistic expression and historical accuracy. In doing so, we ensure that the vibrant hues of the past are preserved and appreciated for generations to come.

34 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page