February 14

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Colourising photos

By Cathie

February 14, 2020


I love old photos and regularly present courses on their identification, conservation and restoration. So I was very interested to see that MyHeritage has recently announced a free tool as part of its subscription – a feature that automatically colourises black and white photos. There are numerous Facebook pages showing the results of the colourisation – some have worked really well, others not so much.

Does the colourisation process take away from the original historical integrity of the photos?  

MyHeritage states:

As part of MyHeritage’s commitment to preserving the authenticity of historical documents, the company differentiates colorized photos from those photographed originally in color using a special embossed palette symbol in the bottom left corner of colorized photos. While highly realistic, automatically colorized photos have simulated colors, which may differ from the real ones. MyHeritage hopes that this responsible practice will be adopted by others who use photo colorization technology.

This, for me, is important.  Photos should be treated like other documents – wherever possible the integrity of the document should be maintained – not marked in any way to highlight interesting points, bits cut out which may reflect poorly on the writer or recipient and so on.  While coloured photos are a relatively recent invention, so are computers and we do not worprocess a handwritten document and maintain that it is the same as the original.  So too with photos – the original is in black and white and maintained and the colourised one is an interesting copy.

I tried out the process on three of my family photos and the results follow.  In my opinion, only one worked well and this photo had been scanned at the highest resolution to give the best quality possible. The colourising process takes only a few seconds and is a wonderful way to see your ancestors, the places they lived and how they lived their lives.  Younger generations may be more likely to be interested in old photos if they are in colour rather than black and white. I have to say, however, that my preference is still sepia – just love that look in old photos.

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