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We love the ease of digital photography, but sometimes we get an itch for some experimentation.
We want to feel like old school photography masters: mixing chemicals in darkrooms and watching images as they slowly develop.
So, what did we do when we learned that some of the first color photographs were made almost 150 years ago, and they weren’t made with color film?
We learned how to use our digital cameras to party like it was 1909, of course!
Now we’re going to share everything we learned and show you how to bring out your inner mad-photo-scientist to make full color photographs using only black and white ones!
Why’s it cool?
Maxwell studied the human eye (our favorite lens!) to find that our eyes were sensitive only to red, green, and blue light.
Before long, Maxwell had developed a method (now called the Harris Shutter effect) to mimic our eyesight and make color photographs by making three black & white pictures: One with a red filter over his lens, one with a green filter, and one with a blue filter.
When he combined them together, photo magic happened and the color photograph was born!
It sounded like too good of an experiment for us to let pass by our photo-curiosities, so we gave it a try using our digital cameras on black and white mode, and guess what?! It worked!
What do I need?:
If you don’t have color filters, or your camera doesn’t have black & white mode, you can still experiment with this awesome method!
We’ll be featuring a how-to guide on even more ways this method rocks soon!(Check out the take it further section for a sneak peek!)
Step 1: Setting up your camera
Step 2: Setting up your shot
Next, focus your camera. (And keep your camera on manual focus mode.)
Take a sample photo to make sure your photos look correctly exposed. (If not, adjust exposure settings until they look good).
Step 3: Red, Green, and Blue.
It’s best to always photograph in the same order: Red-Green-Blue. (This will help you figure out which photo came from which filter when you import your photos in the next step.)
Open all three images in your image editing software, and make sure to keep them in the same order that they were shot (red, green, blue).
Each filter changes the way that your camera records the image, so the three photos will look a little different from each other. (For example, one might have a very dark background while the next looks very bright.)
Step 5: A fresh canvas.
In your image editing software, make a new document that is the same resolution, width, and height as your black and white images. We’re going to be copying & pasting the black and white images into this document, so it’s important that they’re the same size. (Our photos were 5184×3456 pixels at 72dpi.)
Make sure to keep the other 3 images open! You should now have 4 documents open in your window.
Step 6: Channel Surfing!
You will then see a set of “Channels”. RGB – All channels combined, R – only the red information of an image, G – only green information, and B only blue information.
(You can familiarize yourself with channels by checking out our tutorial on black and white image conversion using channels, which is the opposite of this tutorial!)
Use the ‘copy’ command to copy your first black and white image – the one taken with the red filter.
Go to your blank canvas document.
Select only the “red” channel in your channel viewer, and paste your first black and white image into that channel.
Now repeat the process, only deselect “red” and select “green”, then paste in your 2nd black & white image – taken with green filter.
…You see where were going with this! Now select only the “blue” channel and paste in your 3rd black and white image.
Step 7: Finishing up
Under the channels window, select “RGB” to view all three channels at once.
If you already see a full color image, hurrah! It worked perfectly!
Sometimes the images don’t line up perfectly (as shown here), and you’ll see weird colored borders around your subject. To fix this, you can use the “move” tool to slightly nudge the images in each color channel around until they line up perfectly.
Step 8: Final adjustments & the finished product!
If you’re not crazy about the way the color turned out, (our example came out a looking a little yellow) you can try adjusting the levels and curves of your image to correct any color imbalances.
Now that you’re a color photo pro, check out our take it further tips to make photos that will blow your friends away!
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