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Billy The Kid – Part 2

Posted on March 30th, 2015
Billy The Kid - before and after

Following on from Billy The Kid – Part 1 in which we went through the repair and enhancement of the tintype image, here the colorization process will be looked at.

Billy The Kid

Our starting point for this article.

I use Gimp rather than photoshop for colorization. Its color blend mode works differently to photoshop’s, the latter alters the luminosity of the undelying layer requiring further adjustment work. With gimp once you have the desired levels in your greyscale layer you can color to your hearts content.

I arrange the color layers as below:

Layers dialogue

This is a split view showing the top and bottom of the layers dialogue. The blend mode on the individual color layers is in fact ‘Normal’. They are within the group ‘colors’ which itself has the ‘Color’ blend mode. The amount of effect the color in each layer has is controlled by altering its saturation using the Hue-Saturation tool from the Colors menu. My usual way of adding a color layer is to add a transparent layer to the group, choose an approximate color to what is needed and paint it on. I then adjust it with the Hue-Saturation tool, both hue slider and saturation, the lightness slider has no affect in this instance (that is, changing the lightness will have no affect as the layer is in Color blend mode via the group).

  1. The environment
  2. The skin areas – Face and hands
  3. The shirt and waistcoat
  4. The trousers and boots
  5. The cardigan, hat and scarf
  6. The winchester
  7. The gun belt
  8. Light/dark color contrast

A. The environment

Environment colored

Starting off with the environment that the character is set in – the floor, walls and reflector are colored on their own layers. Note that the floor and wall colors at this stage cover Bonney’s body. This doesn’t matter as the layers coloring him will be above the wall and floor layers replacing their influence entirely. This is useful as we don’t have to worry about painting around an object if it is going to be colored later on.

B. The skin areas – Face and hands

Environment colored

Next up comes the skin areas, the face and hands. A base skin color is added and another layer on top of that to add a bit of redness in selected areas, e.g. nose, ears, finger joints. The hair, whites of eyes and the irises are also added here. A bit of pink should be added in the corners of the eye whites. I made his eyes grey based on the apparent lightness in the original picture.

C. The shirt and waistcoat

I have seen some artwork based on this picture where Bonney has a bright red shirt. Synthetic dyes, including red and purple, had been invented at this time and that is perfectly possible. Somehow though, I don’t feel that that’s quite ‘him’. Here I opt for a more subdued green. Judging by the stiffness of the waistcoat, it’s light leather or suede and I colored it accordingly. The brown button are in a layer of their own.

D. The trousers and boots

The trousers were colored brown and the boots giving 2 layers – a base leather color and a darker one for the soles and patchiness on the uppers.

E. The cardigan, hat and scarf

The cardigan I’ve given a muted green, the hat a blue and the scarf a neutral white.

F. The winchester

The winchester is given a wood layer, a steel layer and a bronze layer (for the chamber section). The corresponding parts of the colt are also colored in these layers.

G. The gun belt

The gun belt area is fairly simple. A brown color for the leather and the belt buckle a neutral grey. The bullets are brass for the casing and lead for the business end.

H. Light/dark color contrast

At this point all our major colorization is finished. But the colors are rather flat, the image bland. To add a bit of depth and realism to our photograph we need to use a method common in the art world. Shadows will be given a blue tint and highlights a yellow/orange one.

The first step is to make a new layer that is a copy of the base greyscale layer. We then select dark areas (e.g. the trouser and the hat) then use the brightness/contrast controls to lighten them. Likewise, lighter areas, like the waistcoat should be darkened. The midpoint of all the separate areas should be a neutral grey. The whole layer is then adjusted with the levels tools to make the darkest shadows black and the lightest highlights white.

The foreground color is then set to blue and the background to yellowish orange. Then a gradient map is applied to our new layer (Colors->Map->Gradient Map in Gimp). A blur is then applied

This layer is given a ‘Soft light’ blend mode and its opacity lowered until the right level of color contrast is achieved. Alternatively ‘Color’ blend mode can be used.

Here then is our finished photograph.