Colorizing a photograph by hand can be time-consuming. In some cases, it is necessary to preserve specific colors within the scene, skin tones, historical facts, and so on. But when it comes to your own images or images from your family and ancestors, we don’t always know what colors were in the photo while it was taken, so most color combinations will work. The great news is that Photoshop lets you colorize your images with as much customization as you would like!

Note: This tutorial works in Photoshop version 22.0 and up.

Step 1: Check your image mode settings

The first thing you’ll want to do first is to find a black-and-white photograph. This can be any photo that is in black and white, but it’s important that the image mode in Photoshop is set to RGB (if it’s set to Grayscale then the filter will not work). To check this setting in Photoshop, go to Image > Mode.

Step 2: Access the Colorize filter

In the menu, go to Filter > Neural Filters. Then, access the Colorize filter from the list. If you’re using it for the first time, you’ll need to download the filter from the cloud. Once it is downloaded, make sure that the toggle is set to “on” and you’ll see an instant preview of your colorized photo!

Step 3: Adjust the global color settings

After you’ve added the initial colorized effect, you can play around with the settings. Simply scroll down below the image preview in the filter window to access them. This will help you correct for any type of color cast or other issues that happened on a global scale to your image after applying the Colorize effect. (There are also some fun effects you can use in the Profile drop-down if you’re looking for a specific effect!)

Step 4: Customize the focal points

By default, the Colorize filter will automatically select the colors to use in the photo. However, you can easily customize the colors by using the Focal points within the filter. You can either use a combination of the “Auto color image” setting plus adding your own customizations, or you can start from scratch and select everything yourself.

To adjust the Focal points, hover over the preview image in the filter panel, and click over the area you want to adjust. Then use the Size slider to help Photoshop determine the size of the area for that specific region.

In this example, I changed my dad’s jacket to a light-blue color and fixed some of the discolorations in other parts of the photograph.

Step 5: Output your results

Once finished, you’ll want to output the results to your document. I recommend using anything except the “Current document” selection, that way you don’t affect the original layer. I prefer to keep my edits non-destructive, so I chose “Smart Filter”, which converts the layer to a Smart Object and adds the effect as a non-destructive and editable filter.

Colorizing a photograph by hand can be time-consuming. In some cases, it is necessary to preserve specific colors within the scene, skin tones, historical facts, and so on. But when it comes to your own images or images from your family and ancestors, we don’t always know what colors were in the photo while it was taken, so most color combinations will work. The great news is that Photoshop lets you colorize your images with as much customization as you would like!

Note: This tutorial works in Photoshop version 22.0 and up.

Step 1: Check your image mode settings

The first thing you’ll want to do first is to find a black-and-white photograph. This can be any photo that is in black and white, but it’s important that the image mode in Photoshop is set to RGB (if it’s set to Grayscale then the filter will not work). To check this setting in Photoshop, go to Image > Mode.

Step 2: Access the Colorize filter

In the menu, go to Filter > Neural Filters. Then, access the Colorize filter from the list. If you’re using it for the first time, you’ll need to download the filter from the cloud. Once it is downloaded, make sure that the toggle is set to “on” and you’ll see an instant preview of your colorized photo!

Step 3: Adjust the global color settings

After you’ve added the initial colorized effect, you can play around with the settings. Simply scroll down below the image preview in the filter window to access them. This will help you correct for any type of color cast or other issues that happened on a global scale to your image after applying the Colorize effect. (There are also some fun effects you can use in the Profile drop-down if you’re looking for a specific effect!)

Step 4: Customize the focal points

By default, the Colorize filter will automatically select the colors to use in the photo. However, you can easily customize the colors by using the Focal points within the filter. You can either use a combination of the “Auto color image” setting plus adding your own customizations, or you can start from scratch and select everything yourself.

To adjust the Focal points, hover over the preview image in the filter panel, and click over the area you want to adjust. Then use the Size slider to help Photoshop determine the size of the area for that specific region.

In this example, I changed my dad’s jacket to a light-blue color and fixed some of the discolorations in other parts of the photograph.

Step 5: Output your results

Once finished, you’ll want to output the results to your document. I recommend using anything except the “Current document” selection, that way you don’t affect the original layer. I prefer to keep my edits non-destructive, so I chose “Smart Filter”, which converts the layer to a Smart Object and adds the effect as a non-destructive and editable filter.

Nicole S. Young is a photographer, published author, and educator specializing in Lightroom, Photoshop, and photography. She is best known for her books on food photography but is widely versed in various photographic genres, including landscape, nature, stock, travel, and lifestyle.

12 Comments

  1. Joe S November 12, 2021 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial

  2. Steve Freeman November 12, 2021 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Great step-by-step instructions. Thanks so very much.

  3. Randy Ranson November 12, 2021 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Glad you’ve got a colored image of you and your dad, that’s nice to have, and the fact you want others to have that same joy is nice of you.
    This works and I can only imagine what the future will bring, 3D TV sets and in depth frames with 3D images for depth. We. are only at the cusp of what’s to come, we’ve come a long way already in the last three decades. Keep safe and wish you a lot of happiness and success in your future too.

    • Nicole S. Young December 28, 2021 at 11:36 pm - Reply

      This is actually my dad and my mom, I was either not born, or I was a little baby when this was photographed.. :)

  4. Nancy November 12, 2021 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    Oh wow- how fun is this, thank you much. I need to practice more, but what fun to see the color bring new life to an old beloved image.

  5. red trk November 12, 2021 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Awesome tutorial, thank you!

  6. Rosa November 12, 2021 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Great step-by-step how-to tutorial. As well as a wake up call about the neural filters now available. Thank you.

  7. Natalie November 13, 2021 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Wow! Fantastic tutorial topic. I had never looked at that filter. It’s fun to use!

  8. Cyn Wit November 13, 2021 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Thanks Nicole,
    Very interesting tutorial. Just one question – can you do the same thing with an old photo you have scanned to your computer as a jpeg or does it have to be from the camera? Please advise.
    Thx
    Cynthia

    • Nicole S. Young November 14, 2021 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Cynthia, yes you can absolutely use scanned JPEG images. That’s what I used here in this tutorial.

  9. Richard Uchytil November 18, 2021 at 7:17 am - Reply

    WOW!!! This is amazing!!! I had no idea this filter was there. My mom is the keeper of her families old photos, most in black & white. She’s going to love this! Great tutorial, thanks!!!

  10. frank824@comcast.net December 10, 2021 at 7:26 am - Reply

    WOW! Like others, I didn’t know the filter was there. Thanks so much for the tutorial. I could not believe the results. I have to spend more time on steps 3 and 4 to really fine tune the image.

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