Colorize a Black and White Photo in Photoshop

Skill level

Take a ‘boring’ black and white photo, and give it some color in Photoshop! This tutorial covers selection methods, Adjustment Layers, and Layer Masks, all of which will help you in your photo editing.

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I am certainly one to appreciate a black and white photo from time to time, but sometimes, it just needs a splash of color. Let’s colorize a black and white photo!

NOTE: If the following tutorial feels overwhelming, or you’re just not interested in learning the software and would rather pay a professional, there ARE other options. Head over to to find out more.

The process of turning a black and white photo into color can be tricky, depending on the photo you’re working with. Adding color is simple. The tricky bit is the selection process. Without any color, objects have a tendency to blend with each other. This tutorial is meant to demonstrate the process of adding color to a black and white photo. While the image I chose to use is a fairly simple example, this method will work on most black and white photos.

Step 1

Image selection is your first step. There’s only one condition; the photo must be black and white. Some photos will work better than others, but most should do the trick. The image I’m using was found through Flickr’s Creative Commons search.

Step 2: Important!

This step is very important. If you want strong, realistic results, convert your image to CMYK. This will allow you to work with your colors a lot more effectively. To convert your image, head to Image > Mode > CMYK Color.

Step 3

Now the fun begins! Your task at this point is to create a selection of a color that doesn’t exist! Whether it’s the sky, the grass, or a shirt, you need to use your imagination, and knowledge of the world to determine which objects have what color, and where they start and end. Photoshop includes a variety of selection methods that you can use during this step. For areas of a similar shade, the Quick Selection Tool may work well, otherwise, the Lasso Tools, or the Pen Tool may help with the ‘hard to get’ areas.

The sky was selected using the Quick Selection Tool

Step 4

Once the initial selection has been made, it may be a good idea to Refine it’s edge, especially if you’re dealing with trees or hair. Under the Select menu, Photoshop’s Refine Edge feature is fantastic for dealing with rough edges, like trees and hair.

Notice in the image below, before turning on Smart Radius, and increasing the Radius, the selection was very rough. After, it’s a whole other story. Photoshop was able to refine the selection to go in-between the small gaps, which you usually wouldn’t be able to get to.

Step 5

When you accept the refined selection, your ‘marching ants’ probably won’t look any different, but they are. It’s time to add color! We’re going to be using a Curves Adjustment Layer, as it allows us to individually edit each channel, and by using an Adjustment Layer, we’re able to edit the adjustment at a later time, if needed.

In your Layers Panel, click on the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom, then select Curves.

Step 6

Because you had an active selection, your new Curves Adjustment Layer will automatically add a Layer Mask that reflects your selection. Your Properties panel, or Adjustments panel in earlier versions, will update to show the Curves adjustment, where you can choose any of the channels to edit.

Step 7

Each object in your image will require a different combination of Curves adjustments. For example, the image below shows how I achieved a blue sky by editing the Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow channels.

Step 8

When your first Adjustment Layer is complete, you want to repeat the same process for the other objects in your image. (Create a selection, refine the selection, add a Curves Adjustment Layer).

The following settings allowed me to turn the trees green:

And these allowed me to turn the field and haystacks ‘golden’:

Here is what the image looks like after all three Adjustment Layers have been applied:

Step 9

When all the elements in your image have been colorized, you may want to add a few more Adjustment Layers above the current layers to boost the colors, and to sharpen the overall image. A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer can help you boost your colors by increasing the Saturation slider.

Then another Curves Adjustment Layer can help tweak the tones of the image. You may only need to edit the CMYK channel.

Step 10

That will do it! Again, this tutorial should demonstrate the method to colorize your images. Yes, a ‘simple’ image was used, but hopefully it helped you understand the steps needed to complete the process. Here is another example using the same method:

  • Rennan Lima

    BRAZIL !! 😛

  • Rennan Lima

    BRAZIL !! 😛

  • Nick Hanslip

    Can’t wait. It’s been a while since any tutorials.

  • Nick Hanslip

    Can’t wait. It’s been a while since any tutorials.

  • Joao Teixeira

    awesome, i’ve been following some tutorials i found but my pictures allwys end up looking like a cartoon or an old painting!

  • Joao Teixeira

    awesome, i’ve been following some tutorials i found but my pictures allwys end up looking like a cartoon or an old painting!

  • IceflowStudios

    Nick Hanslip I released one yesterday. I was also on vacation for 2 weeks. They’ll be more frequent soon.

  • Nick Hanslip

    :O Idk I missed it. I better get to it.

  • Bryan Supatra


  • Brent Skeppers

    This is basic stuff. Which is a good thing. I tried to replicate skin tone. On a 1910 photo. That’s… a nightmare.

    Oh the photo you worked on needs a Black and White point for each color. The hay looks to be just yellows. Add a Multiply of the B&W or something that layer to get a better shadow detail./ C&C

  • Patricia Cash

    you are awesome !

  • Himanshu Aggarwal


  • Christa Meyer

    SUPER…thank you!

  • Ireneusz Korzeń


  • Igor Party-Rocker Mitrovski

    We want video ! 😀

  • Igor Party-Rocker Mitrovski

    We want video ! 😀

  • Arjun Mangal

    please upload it fast……..

  • Ralph Campbell

    Howard….I have a black and white picture of my dad that I would like to colorize. My problem is, it is a small thumbnail size pic. Is there any way that I can enlarge it enough to work on it? I know that you can’t add pixels that are not there. Is there any way at all to make this pic large enough to work ok? Thank yu for your time.

  • IceflowStudios

    Ralph Campbell Probably not. Anytime you enlarge an image, you’re going to get pixelation, and when pixelation occurs, it makes it very difficult to make accurate selections.

  • parasbhanot

    great but  what about other colors ?  is there any guide available on net about mixing of  color curves to obtain certain color ?

  • Jayzon

    Really nice tutorial, it helped me out ! 😉

  • It’s very interesting to see how people do certain colour changes and bits like that. There is so many different options but I feel that you have possibly done a much better method. Well done on writing the tutorial I find learning different methods very interesting to learn. Thank you for sharing.

  • Enes Shaini

    ur video tuts are much more useful

  • Gary Graham

    really nice work

  • Jorge Narro

    You have done this one already, we have asked like 50 million times for a tutorial to add and remove hair 🙁 your vids are awesome, but you broke my heart when you stopped answering the Ask Iceflow questions 🙁

  • Mchale Poncardas

    do you have a video tutorial on this sir, especially that awesome airplane b&w to colored I wanna see how did you come up to that awesome outcome ;>

  • IceflowStudios

    Video coming soon. 🙂

  • Mchale Poncardas

    OK sir I’ll wait for that ;> thanks

  • JA Marcellana

    nice!!! =)

  • Mhags Kier Onlii

    great! 😀

  • D Harrison Faux

    Just did it, great tut!

  • Diane Burchfield Johnson

    Oh my gosh that is damn awesome!!!! I’m going to photograph the BnW then do some colorize. Can this be done in CS5 photoshop!

  • IceflowStudios

    Diane – It sure can!

  • Diane Burchfield Johnson

    Thankeeee… 🙂

  • I saw your previous tutorial . That was awesome . But one think that in LR is there option to make Black and White Photo ?

  • Bigjapa

    Valeu pelo tutorial. Muito simples e divertido. Vc aprende o básico e é só usar a imaginação. Parabéns.

  • Clipping Masking

    It is very useful article, informative post. Thanks for sharing !

  • It is conceptual tutorial to colorize a black and white photo in Photoshop. Your step-by-step point and before-after views are very technical for a graphic designer.