Colorize a Black and White


Today’s Question: I know there is a way to add a little color to a black and white photo in Photoshop, but is there a way to do that in Lightroom [Classic]?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can colorize a black and white photo in Lightroom Classic using the Color option in conjunction with the Adjustment Brush tool. However, in Lightroom Classic the process is a bit more complicated in some ways than it would be in Photoshop.

More Detail: In Photoshop it is possible to paint color into a black adn white photos by adding a single empty image layer to the image, changing the blend mode for that layer to Color, and then painting with various colors on that layer. This enables you to use a single layer to paint many colors in different areas of the photo.

In Lightroom Classic it is not quite as streamlined. You can paint color into an image with an Adjustment Brush targeted adjustment, but you’ll need to add a new adjustment for every color you want to use.

To get started, you can click the Adjustment Brush button at the far right of the small toolbar that appears below the Histogram section of the right panel in the Develop module. By default the option will be set to New (rather than Edit) to create a new adjustment. Click the color swatch associated with the Color label, and select a color. Note that you are only able to select a color by defining a hue and saturation, without a brightness control.

After selecting a color, you can adjust the brush settings for the Adjustment Brush tool, and then paint directly on the image to add the color. If you then change the Color setting, the color will change for the current adjustment, which may not be an intended change. If you want to paint with a different color you’ll need to add a new adjustment for the Adjustment Brush.

To add a new adjustment, click the New layer to the right of the Mask label at the top of the adjustments for the Adjustment Brush. Then select a new color, and paint to apply that color to areas of the image.

If you want to modify an existing adjustment, you can click on the adjustment button, which will appear in the position on the image where you first clicked to paint with the color you want to adjust. You can then paint (or erase) to refine the area affected by the color, or change the actual color if you’d like to fine-tune the effect.

The key challenge with this approach in Lightroom is that you’ll have an individual adjustment button for every color you want to paint into the image, which can get a little cumbersome and confusing if you want to paint a relatively large number of colors into your black and white image.