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ArtIamA professional digital colorist. I restore and colorize black and white photographs, working with several museums, TV stations, publishers, and institutions from all over the world. AMA!

Jun 24th 2017 by marinamaral • 41 Questions • 8150 Points

My short bio: Hi guys! People have been requesting me to do this for quite some time now, so I decided to give it a try! My name is Marina Amaral, I'm 22 and I live in Brazil. One day I decided to combine my fascination with history and skill using Photoshop by restoring and putting color into photos that were originally black and white, allowing people to see history from a new and colorful perspective. Each photo is made to be realistic by recognizing the value behind each one of them, respecting and preserving their stories, paying attention to the finer details and maintaining their original essence. Every completed work has gone through long and in-depth research and is supported by the opinions of experts in each particular area if necessary, to faithfully reproduce the original colors and atmosphere. My work ranges from simple portraits to complex and detailed images, taken from various historical periods covering a wide range of topics.

I've been doing this professionally for two years. I work with several publishers, magazines, TV stations, production companies, museums and institutions from different parts of the world. WIRED magazine has made an incredible story on me and my work, which you can read here.

I'm working on several exciting personal projects at the moment and I'll be glad to share some of my thoughts with you!

You can have a look at my work here: www.marinamaral.com || Facebook page || Instagram

My Proof: https://twitter.com/marinamaral2/status/878685669580840960

EDIT: You can commission me to colorize family photos as well: http://www.marinamaral.com/contact/

Edit 2: I've been answering the questions for 7 hours and will continue doing it tomorrow morning. Really impressed by your support and interest. Thank you! x

Q:

How do you know what color to use when colorizing a photo?

A:

The colors are almost always based on historical research. You can find visual descriptions, drawings and paintings from that era that will give you a pretty good idea of the colors. But sometimes a lot of guesswork is necessary to colorize random objects, such as regular clothing, hats, shoes, a chair, etc.


Q:

Do you know about this site? I guess the guy advises people who are painting old houses but there are tons of examples you might find useful.

A:

Wow, this is fantastic and extremely useful. Thank you so much.


Q:

Really enjoy your work. You cover a great range of topics.

Which historical topics do you enjoy the most?

Are requests for prints available? e.g. Can we get your Muir/Roosevelt?

A:

I don't know what happened, but when I saved this picture it generated such a small file, so I don't have it in high resolution anymore. I'll need to re-colorize it to be able to make it available. Might do this someday! People really like this one.


Q:

How often are you tempted to just color everything in the weirdest way possible?

This giraffe? It's pink now.

A:

Hahaha I've never done this before, but I should definitely try.


Q:

I absolutely love your work.
How long does each image take to colourise?
Do you follow a prescribed process? What is it?
Do you plan on making tutorials on YouTube? I would absolutely love that. I have family photos of my mum, passed away, that I would love to colourise.
Do you recommend any particular technology? Mouse/tablet/software?

A:
  1. Thank you! The time really depends on the complexity of the photo. So while a simple portrait can take me 40 minutes, a more complex shot can take me several days of work. I'm such a perfectionist, so I never stop adjusting things until my eyes are pleased with the result.

  2. The process is quite simple, but it's time-consuming if you aim to achieve a realistic result. I don't use any special techniques.

  3. I don't plan on making tutorials on Youtube because I'm planning something much bigger than that! ;) Can't give you too many details right now, but I promise I'm trying to get in terms with the right people to make it happen soon.

  4. Photoshop is the way to go, at least for me, but I've never tried a different software.


Q:

As a designer I would love to see some sort of time lapse/process you take to do this. Please report on here this project idea.

A:

Thanks! I actually have made some crappy videos showing a few steps of the process, but these are really useless. I promise I'll let you all know once I manage to put into practice what I've been planning to do.


Q:

Can people send you some family photos and pay for you to colorize them?

A:

Absolutely!


Q:

Do you use a mouse or a tablet?

A:

I use a tablet.


Q:

Which tablet?

A:

It is a very basic one by Wacom.


Q:

I've tried Wacom but it seems the delay or drag in some makes it difficult to predict how it will look. Does it just take getting used to, or are there some tablets with less delay and less drag?

A:

Wacom is the best, so I think this is only a matter of getting used to the tablet, or perhaps you need to tweak a few things in the settings to make it work properly. I don't have and never had this problem.


Q:

Your going to assist in the process of bringing Star Trek Voyager to High Definition? THANK YOU SO MUCH! I LOVE YOU!

A:

I WISH I COULD


Q:

intensely wispers I believe in you.

Seriously though your work is absolutely phenomenal.

A:

Thank you so much


Q:

How about Schindler's List?  
 
 
(JK)

A:

I like it!


Q:

I love your work and would love to see whatever plan you have in the future!! This is so cool

A:

Thank you so much!


Q:

Sorry, just a bored EFL teacher here: you don't need an article ('the') with WW1 and 2. I really cant fault your English apart from this so maybe it's petty, but school ended a week ago and I'm a bit lost 🤐

Thanks so much for the post btw, I'm actually thinking of commissioning you for a birthday I've got coming up :)

A:

I wish I could have you whispering in my ears and correcting me every time I say something wrong.


Q:

That might be one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me, thanks love 😊

A:

I'm being serious here! I'm trying to improve my English so this would be extremely helpful.


Q:

Well feel free to PM me if you need someone to take a quick look at your writing, although I'm not sure how active you are on Reddit. You can add me on FB as well if you want.

Also, I'm a big fan of /r/languagelearning and /r/englishlearning, if you ever have any questions about your English.

*Edit: I looked at your profile, seems you're a regular redditor. I can add you as a friend and stalk your posts if you really want me to...? 😝

A:

That would be amazing! Send me a PM please so that I don't forget to get in touch. Thank you.


Q:

Being in Australia, I'm blown away by bi-lingual people. I don't think it's a skill as prevalent here as in other parts of the world. I must say, further up the thread I was marvelling your English!

A:

Thank you, I love you! I get more excited when people praise my English than when they praise my work! This is not common here in Brazil as well. I don't know anyone who speaks English fluently or at least on a decent level.


Q:

Do you purposely choose a limited color palette and pale colors to attempt to replicate the "hand tinted" look, or are those the only colors that work properly when overlaid on the grayscale original?

A:

Realism is the ultimate goal, so I never have this hand tinted look in mind when I'm working. The quality of the colorization is very related to the quality of the original photograph though. I actually prefer to work with saturated colors.


Q:

Do you have any sort of methodical process or formula you use when colorizing, such as a certain RBG color for a face, or using a spectrograph, or do you just "wing it" and play around with the sliders until you like what you see?

A:

I'm not a very methodological person, so my layers and adjustments are always all over the place. I do not follow a predetermined path. I play with colors until the entire piece is looking the way I want it to look.


Q:

Do you do any editing such as fixing cracks in glass negatives or removing distracting objects in the background? Or do you try to avoid that and just let the picture stand as it is?

A:

I never ever remove "distracting objects" because I'm dealing with historical documents and I don't want to manipulate them in any way other than by adding colors (as accurately as possible) to them. But I do remove scratches and cracks.


Q:

What is your favourite photograph you've colourised?

A:

That's a tough one, but I think it is that one of the little girl that was murdered in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. I posted this picture during the Holocaust Remembrance Day and the way it was widely shared and the way people received it / reacted to it was pretty impressive. She has blood in her mouth, she is crying, she knows what will happen to her. My goal was to add a sense of humanity to the picture, which in my opinion was lost in the black and white version. When I completed the work and looked at her face for the first time, it was a shock. I realized she was a human being just like me. She had dreams, fears, friends, family, ambitions and a life ahead. But she lost it all.


Q:

It's pretty fascinating. Can you ever be 100% sure you got the right colors or...in other words, how much is guesswork?

Are most colorists women? Colorblindness is more common in men (I'm mildly colorblind) and I've heard that women see subtle variation of color more accurately.

A:

Thank you. Yes, in the case of military uniforms, for example, you have plenty of material (drawings, paintings, visual descriptions, etc) to give you this information. It's the same when it comes to famous landscapes, scenarios, buildings, signs, labels, historic objects... Guesswork comes when you need to colorize most usual/random things, such as dresses, hats, shoes, etc.


Q:

Did you ever get someone to desaturate a modern photograph to practice?

A:

Yes, I did this once a while ago. It's a fun and helpful way to understand the fundamentals.


Q:

Where and how did you learn these techniques?

Also what advice would you give to someone who is interested in trying their hand at /r/colorization or the /r/estoration of vintage photographs?

A:

I learned by practicing a lot. I've always enjoyed using Photoshop in my free time since I was 12 or something, so when I started I had a pretty good idea of the possibilities offered by the software, but I had no idea of how to achieve a realistic result. So I started gathering a lot of information from different areas of expertise, such as physics, photography, traditional painting, etc, and I never stopped practicing. Not even a day goes by without me opening Photoshop to colorize at least a flower. So my suggestion is to practice a lot, identify your weaknesses, observe modern day photographs and never be satisfied with the quality of the work you're currently producing.


Q:

Have you seen the colorize bot? How long til it puts you out of a job?

A:

This is gonna take a while. I'm in contact with a group of scientists that are trying to develop this thing. Their goal is not to overpass what we are manually doing, but to be an additional help to cut off the time that we need to spend working on the images. Honestly I don't think this will happen anytime soon though.


Q:

Have you ever just finished up a long session of colorizing a photo when a historian looks it over and says you used to wrong color?

A:

Yes, and I like when it happens because it's better to spend a few minutes adjusting the colors than to publish an image where I don't have the colors right.


Q:

Love the quality of your work Marina. In your experience, what would be the one tool/plugin you wished you could have that doesn't already exist?

A:

Thank you! I wish I could find a way to automatically identify the original colors of all objects in a photo. I had to give up restoring many amazing shots because I couldn't find enough information to reproduce the original colors of the main subjects, and I don't feel comfortable using a color unless I'm 99% sure it's right choice (historically speaking).


Q:

Do you ever have a downtrend? I've been coloring for a while but I've had a trend downward in the quality of my work and haven't posted anything . I can't really figure out what I'm doing wrong. If you do go through something like this what do you do to get back on your horse?

A:

Very often. I try to do something else and get back to it later. Or I watch a documentary to be inspired again!


Q:

Your work is striking and beautifully emotional!

Have you ever gone back and changed something if you received more information later on that confirmed a color was different than your guess? (E.g. You guessed a dress was red but after publishing the image, are contacted by someone who can confirm the dress was orange).

Have you done this with any of your family's personal history photos? What has been the reaction of someone who had been there for that moment in real life, to see an image of it colored the way they remember it in their head?

Are there any specific image requests you've turned down? (Not for reasons of the image being uninteresting, or not feasible, but for some other reason like an emotional reaction or fear of getting it wrong.)

Thank you for taking the time to do this!

A:
  1. A few times! I'm always grateful when someone points this out to me. It is better to spend a few minutes correcting the colors than to publish a photo with the wrong colors.

  2. I restored some of the photos of my grandmom's wedding. She loved it! But there's a problem when you do this kind of work - some people of your family often think you only need air to live and they are not willing to pay you for the job they want you to do

  3. I turn down an image when I know it will not look good enough. I'd rather lose a few dollars than deliver a crappy photo.


Q:

Do you have talent with drawing in general? Or do consider it a different skill set?

A:

Definitely no! A 3-year-old kid draws better than I do.


Q:

I've been following your work for a while. Seeing pictures in colour reshape the way I think of the past. One of my recent favourites was of the D-Day landings. The addition of colour helps me relate to historical events where black and white images are all that's available!

Could you tell us about your learning curve?

Are there any particular sources that you recommend for somebody who is interested in learning the basics?

A:

Thank you! I'm really proud of that series.

My learning curve - I'm kinda of obsessive, so I've never stopped practicing and studying since the first day I decided to give it a try. I'm always trying to develop new techniques and approaches, always trying to learn something new. I push myself very hard. /u/zuzahin has made a video that can be really helpful to those who are starting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVf60pGsi9Q


Q:

Wow, your work is incredible!! I've heard of colorizing black and white films and photos but it usually feels somewhat fake. Your work however feels incredibly real and I keep having to remind myself that I'm not looking at a re-enacted scene. Your work is incredibly important for giving the world a glimpse into the past.

Have you ever worked with textbook publishers to create history lessons?

A:

Thank you! I'm actually doing something like this right now :) So exciting! I wish I could give you more details.


Q:

In the first picture of your portfolio what is the context? Also why is the guards eyes (to me , a color blind person) seem like he's straight from hell?

A:

Because he is. That's Hermann Göring, leading member of the Nazi Party, at the Nuremberg trial in 1946. The Nuremberg trial was a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II. The trials were most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, judicial and economic leadership of Nazi Germany, who planned, carried out, or otherwise participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes.


Q:

Do you know any photographers still working in black and white?

I learned to previsualize images in the grey scale and I think there is something to be said for purposefully shooting for black and white. Are there any images you wouldn't want to touch or is any monochrome picture fair game?

A:

I do not work with photos that are copyrighted. Other than that, I have no major restrictions.


Q:

I din't know you were only 22 years old!

When do you started colorizing photos?

A:

I'll be 23 in September! I started in 2015 in the most random way possible. I was looking at some website and stumbled upon a collection of photos from the WWII in color. I decided that I wanted to try to reproduce the technique and haven't stopped since then.


Q:

This may be a dumb question, but how do know what the colors should be? Do you guess? Is there a methodology you use? Thanks!

A:

This is the kind of information that I can only find if I dig into historical documents. There is no software or tool that will automatically tell you the colors. I always try to be as accurate as possible, but since I'm not an expert, I'm very open to commit mistakes. I try to reduce this risk by partnering with experts and historians.


Q:

On a scale of 1-10, how great is the quick select tool?

A:

In most cases it works very well! I'd say 7.


Q:

What do you think of colorizing movie classics like Citizen Kane?

A:

I think colorization will always be welcome, as long as it is done with responsibility for maintaining the essence of the original material. I will never use pink to colorize a military uniform, for example, nor remove an object from the photo only because I think it is distracting. I always have in mind that I'm dealing with historical documents.


Q:

I personally love black and white photos and don't think we should colorize photos except for personal pleasure. What are your thoughts on this? I'm always looking to broaden my horizons and change my point of view. Are there any photos which you think having them colorized is a necessity? Are there any photos you think keeping them black and white is a necessity?

A:

Think about the photo of the girl that was murdered in Auschwitz. You have no idea of how many messages I receive literally every day from people expressing how emotional they became after seeing the photo in color, and most important, many of them say that they were able to truly understand what the Holocaust represented only after seeing her photo in color for the first time. My photos are used in classrooms, and teachers always report how the interest of their students in history classes have improved since they began to use them.


Q:

I follow you on social media and your posts on reddit, it's always great to see your work.

  • You mentionned that you started to colorize picture since 2015 only. What career did you envision before being succesfull as a colorist ?

  • Your work seems to be very appreciated and recognized, and it's true that most colorized pictures I've seen are underwelming. What's your secret for having such skills so young ? If it's practise and practise only, do you have some of your early days work that you could show us ?

  • I'm also a big fan of WWI/WWII, and the history of totalitarism in general, I've watched many documentaries about it. One in particular, Apocalypse ( french documentary on WWI ) got my attention. It's got colorized archived movies from 1914-1918, but the quality is very poor. Is colorizing videos that much harder ? Is it done picture after picture, or can you use tracking algorythms to make it easier ?

A:
  1. I was lost. I have a weird past and I've made some "decisions" that kind of throw me into a spiral where I had no perspectives at all. I have always suffered from depression, anxiety and other similar issues. My grandfather died in 2008 and that was kind of the downfall, which made me drop out of school before I even completed high school. That may sound normal to an American (where home education is legal/normal), but that certainly made me an alien here in Brazil. I spent 6 years at home, "locked" in my room. I had/have no friends. Today I strongly believe that nothing happens by accident, because it was during this period that I began to unconsciously build the basis that allowed me to become what I am today. I began studying English, what today is something essential to me, and I spent hours watching Photoshop tutorials on youtube. I went to college in 2015 to study International Relations but I was not passionate about it. Thankfully the colorization thing came into my life, otherwise, I have no idea what I would be doing today.
  2. This was one of the first ones I completed. Awful.

  3. I think it is much harder, yes!