This article first appeared as the Classroom Spotlight feature in Freestylin' Quarterly Newsletter in the Spring of 2004.
Of the creative darkroom techniques available, those in handcoloring offer the photographer a greater range of individuality and expression than
almost any other. Though not strictly a darkroom process, handcoloring differs from processes like Bromoil in that the pigment is applied to a
fully developed and visible image. Little, if any, preparation of the paper is needed. The medium (i.e. coloring agents) available span the gamut
and include nearly everything a canvas painter might use, including watercolor, acrylic, oil, chalk pastel, oil crayon, pencil and more.
For this Classroom Spotlight, we spoke with artist/educator Norma Smith, who has been active in the field of photography for over 30 years.
Currently she is an instructor of photography at UCLA Extension and teaches specialty classes for Otis College of Design and California State
University, Northridge. She is also a member of the Freestyle Advisory Board of Photographic Professionals. We asked her for some insights into
this creative process and for some suggestion on how to add handcoloring to a black and white darkroom course.
"Handcoloring always opens a discussion on why have color in photos to begin with," explains Ms. Smith. "Colors help convey feeling and emotion.
The right color can accent or down-play certain elements. I make it a point to address the difference between handcoloring and a color photograph.
The former exercises the photographer's imagination and involves the photographer in making active choices for every element in the image. In
comparison to a color image, handcoloring is much more subjective and less of a documentation."
Norma suggests three class hours, plus processing and printing time, to cover an introductory handcoloring assignment. "In the first hour I spend
some time talking about how colors convey moods - the basics of color theory. Then I demonstrate how to apply the pigments and explain the tools
involved." Ms. Smith adds that it is a good idea to show the difference between black and white, color and handcolored photos and to show samples
when possible. Samples from previous classes are great for this.
If handcoloring has never been covered before, Ms. Smith notes that Marshall's publishes two booklets that Freestyle offers. "Marshall's also puts
out a great videotape that covers the topic well, including how to mix and apply the pigments. I highly recommend them both."
"Also in the first hour, I cover how best to shoot and print an image for handcoloring. Students should over-expose and then process normally in
order to get a slightly-light, slightly-flat image."
"In the second hour I have students color their prints. Here, emphasize that the process is supposed to be fun and creative - nothing is a failure
and everything teaches. Again, I recommend Marshall's. It has become an industry standard and their quality is excellent. Their Portrait Set contains
a good starter selection of photo oils and pencils."
Students can buy their own kits, or you can buy a few sets to share, pinching out patches of pigment onto pieces of white plastic or wax paper for
students. The video Norma mentioned also covers the use of the tools for applying the colors and how to clean up mistakes by using a kneaded or gum
"In the third hour we spend time turning a critical eye to the final products." Continues Ms. Smith, "Again, there is no failure, but there are
lessons to be learned. We consider each photograph in terms of the criteria discussed in the first hour and the students can have a chance to
articulate the thinking behind their choices."
You can also turn it into a casual contest where students compete in categories for bragging rights or small prizes. If you decide to exhibit the
work, keep in mind that the final images take a day to dry to the touch and a week to dry thoroughly.
The handcoloring process forces students to look closely at their photography and to pass judgement on it based on the elements and the tones it
"Handcoloring improves and educates students' visual decision making. It enhances the development of their photographic eye and its simply fun
to do," says Ms. Smith. "Handcoloring can improve their color photography too because students become aware of where colors are in a picture and
how they interact with each other."
Using your choice of camera and black and white film, submit a handcolored, 8x10 or larger print. Students must shoot, process and print their own
work. Final image will be graded on how well composition, subject matter, print quality, color choice and application combine into an overall
Camera: Any lens or pinhole camera
Film: Any black and white negative film
Paper: 8"x10" or larger. Use Ilford MG IV FB Matte, Varycon FB VC Matte, Fomatone VC FB Chamois, or any matte
Medium: Student's choice. Marshall's photo oils
and pencils are recommended.
Norma sometimes has her students create a greeting card or a CD cover in this assignment. Also, consider allowing students to use a pinhole camera.
See Vol. 1 Issue 1 of Freestylin' online for pinhole photography ideas.