Digital Hand Coloring in CS & Elements

Here are a couple of videos demonstrating hand coloring in Photoshop CS5 and Elements 9.

Even if you are using Elements, watch the CS video first and then the Elements version. In the first video I share a very simplistic and basic explanation of masking as it relates to digital hand coloring. The whole subject of layer masks is quite a bit more extensive than my description, but for this topic, it might help you understand the concept a little better.

I mention in the first video that one of the reasons I sometimes use these techniques, is that it gives me a starting point for when I do hand color with the pastels. It’s cheaper and easier to experiment in the computer than on actual prints.

I tried to find some information on digital hand coloring using iPhoto, but was unsuccessful. I am not sure if you can do it in iPhoto, but if any of you know a way to hand color using that program, please share by commenting on this post.

Feel free to ask any questions by commenting here as well. Other people may have the same question so don’t be shy about asking….


Watch this video first:





Thank You!

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my passion for photography and hand coloring with you!

Please keep me in mind that I will be doing my best to keep this site up to date. As old products are discontinued and new ones introduced, I will be sure to make the necessary changes to the information provided here so all of it is current. I also plan to add to the “Inspirational” lessons as often as I can.

This is where I am also going to ask for your help.

  • If you come across a video or link that is not working, please let me know as soon as possible.
  • If I have presented any information that is simply wrong or outdated, please bring it to my attention.
  • If you notice any “hiccups”, please also let me know.  At the same time, feel free to share any suggestions or ideas you might have that will help the site run smoother.

This is a live site, so you may want to check it every once and awhile to see if something has been changed or added.

In closing, photography has deeply enriched my life and I celebrate and demonstrate my gratitude on a daily basis. It is my hope that the lessons I have shared here, help you (even if it’s just a little bit) to enjoy the world around you with increase awareness and passion.

Remember what I said in the beginning: Have fun!



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Meet Leslie Nicole

Meet Leslie Nicole:

Leslie Nicole was a professional hand-colorist in San Francisco. She has given demonstrations and workshops for Kodak and has been a guest instructor at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. In addition to her fine art photography, she has hand-colored for other photographers and clients. Her work has appeared in posters, greeting cards, retail stores, magazines, catalogs, and advertising. Today, she is the founder and creative director of French Kiss Textures, a resource for photographers and artists.

I came across Leslie Nicole and her work  when I found her site French Kiss Textures (which I talk about in other lessons). We started talking via email and she shared that she had a background in hand coloring and that the way she approached her work with textures was very similar to the steps she took while hand coloring.

Leslie so graciously volunteered to share with us her background as well as helpful information about hand coloring and using texture layers in your work.

Thank you Leslie!

© Leslie Nicole

© Leslie Nicole

Back in the days before Photoshop, I was a hand-colorist. Today, I photograph with a DSLR and then manipulate my images with Photoshop filters and textures. This was a natural progression and I often reflect on how the techniques are quite similar.

In the late ’80’s – early ’90’s and there was a bit of a “nouvelle vague” for hand-coloring. It was quite popular in art, editorial, post cards, etc. I photographed mostly B&W with a 120 Rolleicord camera, printed (usually) on matte paper and hand-colored with oils, pencils and dyes. I worked at a professional B&W photo lab, so I had easy access to the best darkroom equipment.


hand coloring table in 1990 with an image in progress

hand coloring table in 1990 with an image in progress

The finished image was used for the Fortunes Catalog © Leslie Nicole

The finished image was used for the Fortunes Catalog
© Leslie Nicole


Digital Imaging

Around 1992, when desktop publishing—as it was called then—hit in full force, I was asked to start the digital department in our lab. I knew nothing about computers! This started what would become a long side trip first into digital imaging and then graphic design. I went freelance and then I worked in the design departments for many companies. In 2000, I opened my own design studio. I had all but stopped creating art. It was too hard to find the time to go use a darkroom. I had a decent digital compact camera, but I just used it for snapshots of my dogs and flowers in my garden.
Bringing it together
I always knew I would eventually close the circle from my journey into design and, enriched by the experience, come back to photography. In 2007, I bought a Canon 40D. In 2008, I moved definitively to France. I suddenly had the time and equipment I needed to work again. I started experimenting with how to continue my artistic photography digitally. While I had done some digital hand-coloring for jobs in the past using Photoshop, I thought that it made sense to try out Corel’s Painter. I played with that a bit, but when I discovered textures, it clicked.
I had been away from photography for a few years and was totally unaware of the texture movement. After a year of intensely photographing, I wanted to share my images. I joined RedBubble, and soon after, I stumbled onto the work of Jessica Jenney. I was stunned! I had no idea what this artist was doing, but I knew that it was the missing key that linked my style to the digital age. I then started seeing other artist’s work that used textures and launched myself into learning all I could about textures. As I already had a strong base in photography, Photoshop, and hand-coloring, I caught on pretty quickly.
©Leslie Nicole

©Leslie Nicole


Texture As Paint

My approach to using textures has been pretty much the same as hand-coloring. I use the textures as paint. I don’t think I was fully conscious of this until writing this post, but I can see now that taking the next step to creating my own textures was natural. I used to paint my own backgrounds. Sometimes I would literally paint a background, photograph and then hand color it or I regularly photographed against white to paint after. The digital process gives me more freedom to create actual texture. The things I did to create texture in hand-coloring! Once, I let the paint partially dry and then took steel wool to the surface, I sometimes used pumice powder to rub away dried paint. I’ve even used glitter sticks and Conté crayons. I’ve glued on old stamps and torn pieces of paper.
In my textures, I’ll photograph actual paintings or create new textures from photographing patinaed walls and metal gates, or scanning old documents and books gleaned from flea markets. I’m like a visual magpie, constantly collecting things to either photograph or scan. I rarely use these as is, but instead break them down into brushes in Photoshop to combine. I use the same sensibilities I used in hand coloring to create a balance of color. It would perhaps be more accurate to say I create backgrounds.
Applying Hand-coloring experience to textures.
I’ve put together a few tips for creating painted images — either by hand or digitally.
1. Start with a great image.
It’s a mistake to think that hand-coloring or textures will fix a poorly shot and/or unprocessed photograph. Strive to create a good photograph with clear detail. This means shooting with a tripod, a cable release and using mirror lock-up when needed. Take the time to do basic edits in Photoshop. There is no such thing as a perfectly shot image. Images Straight Out Of Camera(SOC) are proofs—not final images. All images need some work, even it it’s minor. In the darkroom that meant burning and dodging, making decisions about what contrast paper, whether to tone, which developer to use and then spotting your final photograph. In Photoshop (or Lightroom) you need to adjust the contrast, white balance, hue and saturation, burn and dodge, clone out undesired dust and artifacts and sharpen. All digital images need sharpening!
2. Apply the paint or texture.
When you hand-color, you spread the oil paint over the image, rub it down and then take away paint where you don’t want it. The oil is transparent so you control how much the image shows through by either thinning the paint with extender or taking it away completely in areas. If you want the color more intense, you may have to build up layers.
It’s really the same with textures. You place the texture over your image and then choose a blend mode. The blend mode and opacity of the layer will determine how the image below shows. You may decide to duplicate a texture or add another texture to build up effects. Where I would use cotton to wipe away paint where I didn’t want it, in digital imaging, I use a layer mask and “rub” or paint away the texture.


©Leslie Nicole

©Leslie Nicole

With all the selection tools available in Photoshop, I usually choose to hand-paint my layer masks. I’m sure this is from my days of hand coloring. I’m used to spending the loving attention necessary for gentle, graduated blending.

(Note: I realize that with Dianne’s method, you aren’t spreading oil over your image, but that was my method. I also used pencils and dyes which are probably more similar to the pastels. The basic ideas of determining where to place the color and how much of your image to let show are the same.)
3. Color
When I first started hand-coloring, I would spend hours and hours trying different things, unsure of my choices. Seeing what colors worked best. What color would bring the most dimension to an image. What colors brought balance to the image. Eventually, I got faster until I usually “just knew” what would work. It’s the same with textures. You have to put in the time playing with different combinations to start to get a sense for what works. You never stop playing, but your choices will get quicker and surer. You’ll have a base of experience to draw from.


©Leslie Nicole

©Leslie Nicole

Note: This hand-colored photograph of the little girl is by photographer, Laura Aldridge. I always loved working on her images. I hand colored a number of her images for projects such as greeting cards and the inserts to frames for Mervyn’s department store.

4. Pay attention to shadows and highlights.
One of the things I most stressed when I taught hand-coloring was to pay attention to the shadows and highlights. Cleaning the paint away from a highlight made all the difference in bringing an image to life. Study how the master painters treat shadow and highlights. Look at the different colors in the shadows. Look at how they play with edge contrasts. Flat color makes a flat image.
5. The Most Important Ingredient
Hand-coloring and textures are both disciplines that take time. Time working on your image. Time playing with technique. You have to have the temperament for this. For me, the time is relaxing and meditative. The discoveries exciting. The most important ingredient of all in being successful in these methods is to love the process. I guarantee you that if you enjoy the work and put in the time, you will master the process and find your own vision.
©Leslie Nicole

©Leslie Nicole




Next: Thank you!

Meet Joseph Rokovich

I had the pleasure of meeting Joseph in person a couple of years ago and I am excited to introduce him to everyone!

A talented and passionate photographer, Joe has taken hand coloring with Pan Pastels and created his own unique style.

In addition to sharing a few images, Joseph also included some information about his process:

“On location, I take multiple images: I vary the exposure, depth of field, and also try to address the subject from different angles.  This permits me to later select, composite, and position elements to create the working proof.  I then finalize the look and feel of the image in Photoshop and Nik Color Effects Pro (I use Tonal Contrast with most images).  The B&W is created in Nik Silver Effects Pro (I really like the effect of 019 Fine Art Process).   Although both the B&W and color images look great at this point, the application of pastels over the B&W gives me the opportunity to select the color palate and highlight elements as I choose. 

I have found Museo Portfolio Rag to be a great working substrate which takes the pastel nicely even though there is only modest tooth to the surface.  Premier Art Shield does help to “set” the B&W image and minimize smearing.

I do start with 8.5×11 prints to finalize the “color plan”; then I print a larger B&W at either 18×24 or 20×24. I use Pan Pastels as well as CarbOthello Pastel Pencils (I find them to be softer and easier to apply than Conte).  I have also incorporated brushes as well as sponge applicators into my work … I really like the Holbein Flat, Round Pastel Brush… I paint with the flat surface for density.. I also like the same brush “on edge” for finer application – I apply with one edge and then blend with the other side… there are times when I have white space and just “free lance paint” like in the sky of Marin White Barns, I added clouds and color variation until it feels right… “
©2011 Joseph Rokovich "White Barns" - Marin County

©2011 Joseph Rokovich “White Barns” – Marin County

©2011 Joseph Rokovich "The Path" - Park Presidio

©2011 Joseph Rokovich “The Path” – Park Presidio

©2011 Joseph Rokovich "Oriental Gazebo" - Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

©2011 Joseph Rokovich “Oriental Gazebo” – Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

©2011 Joseph Rokovich "Fallen Tree" - Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

©2011 Joseph Rokovich “Fallen Tree” – Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

Thank you Joseph!


Next: Meet Leslie Nicole

Meet Denise Fuson

In these “inspirational” posts, I want to introduce some of the other artists that participated in Photo Artistry Workshop in the past and give you a chance to see how others are using the tools and techniques I have demonstrated to create their own style of original art.


©2011 Denise Fuson "Give Up Livin'"

©2011 Denise Fuson “Give Up Livin'”

In addition to images, Denise shared with me a little about how she found Photo Artistry Workshop and why she is interested in hand coloring photographs .

“I’ve been doing B&W digital printing for several years now and love the subtle tones and feeling of time gone. Noticing several alternative process artists using hand applied color really peaked my interest and, after not so successful attempts at applying pastel pencils to emulsion transfers, I started looking around for a process that would work for me. When I saw a link to Photo Artistry Workshop on a friend’s Facebook page (or was it French Kiss Textures?), I was all in. Hand colored digital prints! Online workshop! What could be more fun?

Working with the gorgeous Pan Pastels allows me to get a soft effect ranging from deep, saturated colors to a light, wash effect. I am excited with my first images and hope to see even better results as I gain experience.”

©2011 Denise Fuson "Preston Castle Tubs"

©2011 Denise Fuson “Preston Castle Tubs”

©2011 Denise Fuson "Hoochee Coochee Man"

©2011 Denise Fuson “Hoochee Coochee Man”

©2011 Denise Fuson "I'm in the phonebooth, Baby"

©2011 Denise Fuson “I’m in the phonebooth, Baby”

©2011 Denise Fuson "Thompson Center"

©2011 Denise Fuson “Thompson Center”


Thanks Denise! I love your work!

Next: Meet Joseph Rokovich

Floral Photography – A Quick Depth of Field Lesson

Depth of field is an important creative tool and understanding how to use it will greatly enhance your photography. This is especially true when it comes to photographing flowers.

Depth of field is the term used to describe the amount of sharpness in an image.

  • A “shallow depth of field” means your subject will be sharp, but anything in the foreground or background will appear out of focus. This comes in handy when you want to isolate your subject from the background.
  • Images with a lot of “depth of field” will appear sharp throughout.

Many of you probably already know this, but it can’t hurt to review a few basic terms and show some examples.

  • Your depth of field is determined by your aperture (lens opening).
  • A higher number such as F 22, is a small lens opening which provides for greater depth of field. (There is a scientific explanation for all of this, but it’s not necessary to know what it is to understand the concept. Let me know if you are curious about this and I will find that information for you.)
  • Something to consider: While F22 will give you a greater depth of field, it is not always the sharpest aperture to use.  If you stop down too far, diffraction may occurr. Diffraction is a loss of sharpness or resolution caused by photographing with small f/stops. Anytime you look or photograph through small holes you get diffraction. Squint your eyes – that’s diffraction! If you’re shooting flat subjects, the sharpest aperture is usually around f/8.
  • A smaller number like F 5.6, is a large opening which will give you a shallow depth of field.
  • Depth of field is also determined by the camera-to-subject distance. The closer you are, the less depth of field you will have. (See the flower example below)
  • Keep in mind that your shutter speed is directly related to the aperture. A small opening lets in less light, so setting your camera at F 22 will require a much longer shutter speed.
  • An aperture setting of F 5.6 will let in more light and decrease the amount of time the shutter needs to be open.

This is where a picture is worth a thousand words:

 Close up of Flower: F 5.6 - Shallow Depth of Field

Close up of Flower: F 5.6 – Shallow Depth of Field


Close up of Flower: F 32 - Sharp throughout most of the image

Close up of Flower: F 32 – Sharp throughout most of the image

F 4.8 Notice the type on the stapler  (Because the lens is a little further away from the subject, the difference in depth of field is not as dramatic.)

F 4.8 Notice the type on the stapler
(Because the lens is a little further away from the subject, the difference in depth of field is not as dramatic.)

F 32

F 32


How to use depth of field when taking floral photographs:
  • In a studio setting, determine how much of your image you want in focus and set your F stop accordingly. If you want to throw your background out of focus, set it at F 5.6 and get close to your subject.
  • When you are outdoors there are more variables to consider. If you want an image with great depth of field, setting your aperture at F 22 will increase the amount of time the shutter will have to remain open. This could be a problem if there is even the slightest breeze. The good news is, most of the time when you are shooting outside you don’t want a distracting background. You want to have your subject sharp and the background blurry.
  • Setting your camera to F5.6 or a similar aperture should allow for enough light to enter and give you a fast shutter speed, decreasing the chance that a breeze will ruin your shot.

The best way to understand all of this is to simply go out and experiment with it…………….


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