“History In Color”: 30 Beautifully Colorized Historical Photographs
Reading about history helps us better understand ourselves and the world around us, but exploring it through visual examples can make our past seem even more real. Like looking at old photographs that let us in on the undoubtedly captivating moments that we may have forgotten or weren't even aware of. However, the color palette we usually associate with these images is a narrow one — black and white. While faded and scratched monochrome photos do have their charm, they can make it difficult for us to relate to the past.
We live in a digital age, after all, and our minds think and remember past events in color, so a colorful photograph should be much easier to identify with, right? Let us introduce you to the aptly titled 'History in Color' subreddit, an online community "dedicated to high-quality colorizations of historical black and white images, and discussions of a historical nature."
To bring bygone days back to life, we have wrapped up a collection of some of the most stunning vintage images from the group. So enjoy scrolling through these multicolored treasures and upvote your favorite ones! Keep reading to also find in-depth interviews with writer and lover of early modern history Jo Romero and professional photo colorization artist Sanna Dullaway. And if you're interested in even more historical photos and the stories behind them, be sure to check out our earlier piece right over here.
Samson Beaver, His Wife Leah, And Their Daughter Frances Louise, In Canada In The Year 1907
Sophie Scholl, Founder Of The White Rose Student Resistance Group During The Nazi Regime, Arrested For Distributing Anti-Nazi Leaflets With Her Brother, Executed By Guillotine At Age 22 For High Treason. She Would've Been 100 This Year
"Photography can definitely be a powerful tool in understanding history," Jo Romero, a writer, sketcher, and founder of the blog called Love British History told Bored Panda. "It gives us that link between us and people in the past — we can look into the person's eyes in a photograph and it creates that human connection between us."
After all, exploring historical events is far more than just memorizing a string of names and dates. It is about how people lived back then, and how they molded our society. It is about understanding their dreams, hopes, and fears, and what pushed them to take action and create inventions that they did. "From a photograph too, we can see body languages and poses within a group of people or the way a scene is laid out and this is much more than we could ascertain from reading a book," Jo added. "Photographs help make history seem more real. They're like a viewfinder into the past!"
“The Blanket Weaver” - A Navajo Woman Weaving Under A Cottonwood Tree In Canyon De Chelly, Arizona. Photographed By Edward S. Curtis In Ca. 1905
Portrait Of Joseph Two Bulls, Dakota Sioux, Ca 1900
Mailman N. Sorenson Poses With His Heavy Load Of Christmas Mail And Parcels, Chicago, 1929
The blogger pointed out that history is an extremely varied topic. "We have so much we can learn from the visual evidence that we have, whether that's a portrait of a person or a snapshot captured of a group or scene," she said, adding that visual media helps make the past seem more accessible and that we can see photos like we see historical artifacts. "They add interest and give us context."
"It's one thing to read about your great-great grandfather on a page but then to see a colorized photograph of him and look into his eyes, it's completely different," Jo told us. "I think that colored photos of people or scenes evoke a much stronger emotional reaction, and it's great that they can be used alongside written sources for context. Not everyone wants to learn just by reading, and using different visual sources can help keep our interest and curiosity up and make the topic a lot more engaging."
Two American Soldiers Proudly Show Off Their Personalized "Easter Eggs" (155mm Artillery Shells) Made Especially For Adolf Hitler, 1945
The O’halloran Sisters — Armed With Poles And Boiling Water, They Fended Off The Officers Evicting Their Family During The Irish Land War, In The Year 1887
The Monumental Love Story Of Richard And Mildred Loving LED To The Historic Supreme Court Case Sweeping Away The Latest Segregation Laws In America.
Jo personally loves to see old photos restored in color. "There's just something about seeing a black and white photo and then looking at the colored version that brings it almost to life," she explained. "We establish a connection with not only the subject but also the photographer, so we see exactly what they saw through their lens that day as if we're seeing it now and are part of the scene in a way." The history lover added that discovering the past through high-quality colorized historical photographs simply makes it seem "much more relatable to us and we want to discover more."
Portrait Of John Smith, Also Known As The White Wolf, Elderly Native American Chippewa Of Cass Lake, Minnesota, In Traditional Dress, 1914. (Probably Born Between 1822 And 1826, Although Presumably As Early As 1784; Died In February 6, 1922)
Granny Winning First Prize For Her Marijuana Plant At The California City County Fair Back In 1973.
We also got in touch with Sanna Dullaway, a Swedish colorization artist living in Belgium, who was kind enough to have a little chat with us about photo colorizing and the whole process behind it. Sanna revealed to Bored Panda that she has been coloring both public and private photographs and turning black and white memories into vivid colors for over a decade now.
"When I started, I was not aware of anyone else doing this online. It's something I figured out for myself by playing around in Photoshop,” Sanna told us. The idea came to her while she was listening to Rage Against the Machine one day and saw the album cover of a song — it was a photo of the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức who set himself on fire in protest of the South Vietnamese government persecuting other Buddhists.
The Art Painter Claude Monet Is Photographed In His Garden In Giverny, 1899
Portrait Of Three Horses, Photographed By Edward S. Curtis In Ca. 1905
"The photo was in black and white, and I remember thinking the fire and the rest of the photo would have much more impact if it was in color," the artist mentioned. "I had a big interest in Photoshop at the time and loved playing around with the software so I simply tried coloring the fire by selecting it, and then applied a gradient to the fire within 'Color blending mode'."
"The result looked so amazing that I realized I could probably do the rest of the photo using the same technique, and I posted the result on Reddit," she told us, adding that it immediately hit the front page and stayed on there for nearly two days. After her work went viral, people all over the world started reaching out to her, asking if she could color their photos too. "I realized this was something I had a talent for and loved to do, so I simply continued! Now, ten years later, I still work with this full-time, coloring photos for magazines, museums, and people's own family album photos."
Photo Of Charlie Chaplin As A Young Man Without Makeup On In Circa, 1916.
A Funny Photograph Of The First World War, German Soldier In The Snow With Only A Helmet, Boots And A Tank Top With A Cat On His Head. 1916.
Ron Stallworth (Pictured Here In 1975) Was The First Black Detective In The History Of The Colorado Springs Police Department. He Infiltrated The Ranks Of The Ku Klux Klan In Colorado Springs, Colorado, Becoming A Member Too In The Late 1970s.
We were curious to learn more about the process of colorizing black and white photos itself. Sanna revealed she always starts by restoring the original image if it has any damage like scratches, spots, or the wrong exposure.
"Next, I mask and layer every single object in the photo, starting from the foreground working my way back in the background," the artist continued. "Locking these layers allows me to precisely color them without any bleeding issues. They are all set in Color blending mode — this mode allows the luminosity of the photo to stay intact as you give it color. This technique is easily available to anyone and hasn't changed since the day I started coloring."
Ukrainian Bride In Traditional Folk Costume, In The Year 1875
Group Of Women With Their Automobile Outside The White House, In The Year 1922
One key characteristic that sets her colors apart from others is her many years of experience that allow her to make educated guesses, Sanna pointed out. "Natural colors are easy to guess the color of, trees, sky, earth, skin — these things looked the same 100 years ago as they do today, so are easy to reference."
However, she stressed that when it comes to man-made items, the process can become a bit more complicated. "[Objects] that change through time like textiles, building materials, cars, are all things that vary greatly from decade to decade and even year by year," Sanna explained. "You will have to research these as best you can using sources such as online collections from museums to more accurately pinpoint the correct color of the era."
Moreover, there are always moments when Sanna can’t find the needed information about the specific item or place she’s trying to restore, "and that's where you have to make your best guess."
“Titanic Orphans” Michel & Edmond Navratil, Named So When They Turned Out To Be The Only Children Who Remained Unclaimed By An Adult After Being Rescued From The Titanic, In 1912
The photo colorization artist stressed that the most important thing you need is knowledge and understanding of how color and light interact with one another. "How light bounces off reflective surfaces, changing the color depending on the scene — is the photo taken in bright sunlight? Overcast weather? Indoors with a single lightbulb illuminating the subject from a specific angle?" Sanna noted that these are all factors she has to consider before colorizing an old photo.
Hakone, Japan, A Tree-Lined Avenue Ending In A Flight Of Stairs To A Temple, Photographed By Felice Beato In Ca. 1868
When asked about her own opinion about old colorized photographs, Sanna thinks that her generation has a difficult time relating to the content of these images. "We see black and white photos as something distant belonging to another era, something that happened so very long ago. Looking back at those pictures almost gives you an 'us and them' feeling. We perceive the black and white world differently from the colored world we're accustomed to."
"But today, most of us grew up with photos being in color, and we all see life in color — it is the most natural thing to us. So when we add color to black and white photos, it makes us think, 'Hey, they were just like us!'" she said, adding that colors bring us closer to the past.