It does seem a bit perverse, adding colour to a black and white image which used to be colour in the first place, but hand-coloured (or digitally-coloured) black and white has a very particular ‘look’ that colour images just don’t have.

So this image (below) is one I originally shot in colour but then reworked as a black and white image with a little more contrast and a burned-in sky to add a little more depth and drama.

Hand coloured black and white with a bi-colour filter

It looks all right, but I realised that by adding some colour digitally I could make something I liked even more. I’ve used the Bi-Colour Filter in Color Efex Pro, for this, which is part of the Nik Collection. Other programs have similar tools. You could do the same thing in Luminar, for example, or in any image-editor that offers layers and blend modes. In Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you could add a gradient adjustment layer set to Colour mode, for example. It would be easy enough to do something similar in Lightroom too.

Hand coloured black and white with a bi-colour filter

01: For the upper part of the picture – the sky – I’ve chosen a steely blue tone. In fact, this is simply one of the alternative Colour Sets in the Bi-Colour Filter settings. You can adjust the Vertical Shift of the filter using the tools panel on the right to make sure that the colour changes at or near the horizon. The Blend slider controls how soft or hard the transition between the colours is.

02: For the lower part of the picture – the sand – I’ve gone for an orange/brown tone. It’s more or less the colour of sand and it’s a good colour contrast with the blue-toned sky.

03: The boat in the centre of the picture is more of a problem. It’s not logical for the top part of an object to be one colour and the bottom part another, so I’ve placed an opacity control point here to remove the filter effect. Looking at this picture again, I should probably add another below the waterline on the hull, where there’s what should be a white strip that looks a little orange. I’ll make that my next job! These control points are used in Color Efex Pro to remove the filter from areas you don’t want it to be applied. In Photoshop, Lightroom and other programs you’d do this using a mask.

So here’s the finished picture. It’s rather a quick and dirty kind of hand-colouring for a black and white picture but I think the effect is a whole lot more interesting than the original colour image. One of the fascinating aspects of hand-coloured black and white is the limited colour palette and the way the colour interacts with the greyscale tones – and I think we’re getting something of that effect here too.

Hand coloured black and white with a bi-colour filter