These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Colorized by Marina Amaral

Photographic images bring history to life. Some of history’s most iconic images are in black and white. What if those images could be colorized? What if those images could be colorized while also being historically accurate to the photographic techniques used when the photo was taken? A Brazilian artist has done just that.

Marina Amaral colorizes historic images. Some of the images date back to the early days of photography and are sepia toned or black and white. Smart phone technology has permitted users to take photos of their friends using filters that make highly digitized images look like they were taken 100 years ago. The process of taking an old photo, digitizing it, and then simply clicking a button to colorize the image works well. Amaral wanted to go beyond simply colorizing a black and white image.

Left: Dorathea Lang’s “Migrant Mother” photo from the Great Depression. Library of Congress. Right: The same photo colorized by Brazilian artist, Marina Amaral.

For Amaral, colorizing an image means making it look as it would have to an observer witnessing the photographer taking the photo. While this seems simple, it involves a painstaking process that forces Amaral to sit for countless hours at a computer as she digitally manipulates the color. She has stated that an image can take a few minutes to over a month to colorize. The first step to accomplishing her goal is to research how the image was taken.

1916 Georgia schoolhouse. Colorized by Marina Amaral

Ensuring that an old image remains true to its history goes beyond just knowing how the photo was taken and developed. Amaral researches textiles and the colors that were used to make them. This requires the creation of new colors in a digital setting so that the colorized images can be as accurate as possible as they were on the day the picture was taken.

Pixel by pixel, Amaral colorizes the black and white photos “by recognizing the value behind each one of them, respecting and preserving their stories, paying attention to the finer details and maintaining their original essence.” Amaral has joined her skill as a master of Photoshop with her interest in history and photography to create a “second dimension” of the past.

Mark Twain. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The United States Civil War was a watershed moment for photography. The well-known photographer, Mathew Brady, created a way to make the photo studio mobile. Prior to the outbreak of war, most photography happened in a studio. The long exposure time required made it impossible for photographers to take action shots. Instead, soldiers, married couples, and families sat for portraits.

In the controlled environment of the studio, people looked rather stoic, stern, and sometimes scary in their portraits. Brady was able to create a photo wagon that contained all the equipment he would require to take and develop the photos. His shortened exposure times and new methods in developing the photos was the equivalent to today’s smart phone photo applications. Now, Marina Amaral can add her name to the technical advances in photography. On the next page, take a look at six iconic images from history that Amaral has colorized