Hand Colouring and Painting Photographs


Hand painting photographs was the only method available for colouring when black and white (B&W) photographs were the only photographic method available. It is the method of applying different types of paints such as acrylic, water colour or oil to enhance the overall appearance of the original image to try to recreate the colours true to life. Highly skilled artist’s were originally paid to complete this task.


For the purpose of this study the following question(s) were addressed:

  1. Does this method only need to be applied to (B&W) photographs?
  2. Would acrylic paint applied to a tea toned image produce satisfactory results?



I predict that acrylic should be the most suitable choice of media to cover the photograph, due to its plastic and fast drying nature.

I also assume that a tea toned image should be as easy to overpaint as a (B & W) one.




I deliberately used low contrasted images with softened backgrounds. I also chose an original image that wasn’t too complex and was easier to over paint. These photograph’s were produced form negatives and are based on light sensitive photographic paper and then developed in the darkroom. However, this is the harder way to develop photographs and a standard digital print would also work for this process.

Janine Kilroe is an artist that specialises in hand colouring photographs, her mixed media approach enables the addition of selective interpretation within the scene. Janine, however water-colours but I believe I have achieved similar effects with using acrylic based paint. This had a faster drying time which was easier to work with, and will preserve for longer.


Stage 1:

I started by using more defined lines, during stage 1 when starting to paint over my photograph’s, however on more evaluation I decided to aim more abstract and began to blur the lines. I found that this gave a more natural effect, although I was not fully happy with the overall result so I decided to experiment further, see stage 2.




Stage 2:

I applied a different technique with the brush stroke for this application which resulted in an even more abstracted effect which I am more pleased with. I also added more paint to the background which appeared to blend and highlight the subject more efficiently.




I have enjoyed the creative and craft elements to this process, I have applied my own style and I have found that it can successfully improve the aesthetic of a (B&W) photograph but requires significant skill to replicate the original colour image photo-realistically. I find they have stylistic merit in their own right, in an artistic and graphical sense rather than just photographic.



[1] ALTERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY, (2000). Hand Colouring and Painting Photographs. [Online] Available from: http://www.alternativephotography.com/wp/post-printing/handcoloring-and-painting-photographs                                                          [Accessed: 08 May 2016]

[2] JANINE KILROE, (2016). Janine Kilroe handpainted photography. [Online] Available from: Sunflower Head. Watercolour Wash                                                                              [Accessed: 06 May 2016]

[3] OPUS ART SUPPLIES, (2016). Adding an Acrylic Gel Medium To Your Digital Print. [Online] Available from: http://www.opusartsupplies.com/how/videos/adding-acrylic-gel-medium-your-digital-print                                                                                               [Accessed: 06 May 2016]

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