Colourist Brings Historic Photos to Life with Pinpoint Precision

Historic photos from centuries past have been given a colourful new lease on life in this awe-inspiring digital colourisation series.

Marina Amaral is the Brazilian artist behind the project, using Photoshop as her canvas to retouch photos of famous historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln. Her work is so precise and detailed, it is hard to believe the photograph was taken hundreds of years ago.

While photo colourists are becoming more widespread (even an AI algorithm), Amaral carries forth the tradition of artist and historian by meticulously researching every little detail to identify the best colour palette to use.

Once the digital colourist has gathered enough information about the objects featured in the photo, she uses photos taken today from the same location as a reference point for lighting.

Amaral only started getting into colour restoration last year when she was inspired by the colourised World War I photos found in an online history forum. Since then, Amaral has restored over 200 photo, with the oldest dating back to the 1830s.

She tells DigitalRev that over the past year-and-a-half she has learned that not everything is as simple as it seems.

“When you see a little pebble in the sand of the beach in one of my works, you can be sure that I spent at least 10 minutes working on its colours.”

Each photo can take over a month to complete as Amaral’s ambitious pursuit for photorealistic accuracy has expanded. She even studies the way light interacts with materials in her spare time. One day, Amaral hopes to create a restoration that people might accidentally mistake for the original photograph itself.

“The love that I feel for history just grows and grows stronger every day and with every new finished work.”

Amaral’s love for history can only truly be appreciated when seeing a photograph such as The Burning Monk. The grey car from which Thích Quang Duc emerges to immolate himself is faithfully restored back to a turquoise colour, adding an additional layer of depth to the harrowing moment of history from June 1963.


/Marina Amaral

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2 1953 is also stunningly brought to life in a beautiful array of colours only witnessed by those who attended the ceremony at the time. This isn’t Amaral’s own vision of history, but how it would have looked if colour photography existed all those years ago.

“Each photo is made to be realistic by recognising the value behind each one of them, respecting and preserving their stories, paying attention to the finer details and maintaining their original essence.”


/Marina Amaral

While Amaral hopes to release a photo book and hold an exhibition of her collected colour restorations, her biggest goal is to be on set of the production of an epic documentary.

Amaral is a full-time digital colourist and photo restoration artist fulfilling commission requests over on her website. To see more of Amaral’s loyally colourised photos from the past, be sure to follow her over on TwitterInstagram, and Flickr.

Images used with permission