Fascinating Colorizations Bring New Life to Historical Photographs

Fascinating Colorizations Bring New Life to Historical Photographs

Ryan Urban, a young EMT and nursing student from Colorado, has been crafting incredible colorizations of historical black and white photographs. With the addition of color, the images are suddenly full of life, giving the viewer a glimpse at what the scenes depicted in these photographs would have looked like at the time. 

Colorization is not a new presence in the world of photography; early colorizations required painstaking work as photographers literally painted their photographs, usually with obvious and over-saturated results. However, advances in digital technology have enabled talented colorists like Urban to create incredibly realistic color representations.

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Eureka-Colorado Eureka, Colorado (Late 1800s)

Urban’s graphic design background and experience with photo restoration has helped him ensure that his work is as accurate as possible. Urban says he does as much research as possible ahead of time, relying on pictures of surviving items from the time period of the photographs to match the colors of military uniforms or other clothing. Using Google Street View, Urban says he will often “take a virtual drive around town to see which (if any) buildings are still around.” Although he does as much research as possible, Urban admits that “a lot of educated guess work comes in to play”; guess work that Urban says at times “will test my sanity to its limits.”

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Gas-Mask-Suit-Test Gas Mask and Suit Test, WWII Era

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Indianapolis-Soldiers-and-Sailors Indianapolis, Indiana, circa 1907. “Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.”

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-USS-Oregon The Athletes of the U.S.S Oregon, Circa 1897

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-New-Orleans-Bourbon-Street New Orleans ‘Old-Absinthe House’ on Bourbon Street Circa 1903

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Pikes-Peak-Railway Cog Train Railway. Pike’s Peak, Colorado circa 1900


Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Cornell-Rowing Cornell’s Varsity Rowing Team, 1911

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Soldier-Iwo-Jima Observer Locates a Machine Gun Nest on a Map, Iwo Jima, February 1945

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Rex-Smith-Aeroplane-1911 Senorita Lenore Riviero With Antony Jannus In A Rex Smith Aeroplane, Washington, D.C., circa 1911


Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Jersey-Shore The Jersey Shore circa 1905. “Boardwalk at Asbury Park.”

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-MLK-March-Washington MLK Giving His March On Washington Speech

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Pilot-WWII Unk Pilot, WWII

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Anton-Dostler-Execution German General, Anton Dostler Being Tied To A Stake Before His Execution By Firing Squad. Aversa, Italy, 1945

Ryan-Urban-Colorizations-Gas-Mask-WWII Sergeant George Camblair Practicing With His Gas Mask In A Smokescreen. Fort Belvoir, Virginia, 1942

Via The Phoblographer

Ruby Love's picture

Ruby Love is a photographer and writer based in Olympia, WA. Love's work focuses on the link between photography and storytelling, and the potential of images to be tools for activism.

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Wow, you can see the Anton Dostler execution photo (well, the flash at least) at 1:23 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iEY6WoGm6A

nice catch! pretty cool!!

I managed to capture that moment

i don't know how i feel about him putting his watermark on someone elses images. i get he colorized them, but still not his...

Yeah, I agree. That's not cool.

I agree with the colorizer. He did not take the images, but the colorization is his work. There are still original B&W's out there. It would be unfair for Ryan to not have the opportunity to protect his work.

If he took them for free, he should dispense them for free too. If he does it this way, I see no problem with his watermark.

That makes no sense.

If he put the work in to colourize the images regardless on how he got the work (Which would be in public domain), he should have the right to protect his work

Fantastic selection of photos!

These are really great, and better than I could do probably, but I can't help but notice that the foliage is all one shade of green and therefore really artificial looking. It would make the photos more natural had he used multiple shades of green/yellow/brown.

Then again, perhaps he wasn't trying for verisimilitude.

Awesome processing. Usually I'm not fond of colorizations, but these ones are definitely cool, well done and interesting !

You can check my colorisation work here : http://samten.fr/albums/colorisations/

Good job. A little cold and oversaturated though; but I guess it's my perception.

Good Job!, now try a video.

Nice work but I think this look more true to life:

Some are really impressive, but there is often a issue with the skin tones, the color of water and sky ... a bit to vivid to be true ...
But for the buildings and the tree it's very good !
If it's your work, congrats ! For the skin tones I'll give you just one tip : the color is supposed to fade in the darker area, so adjust your color layer settings ;)

Not my work.

These things always blow my mind. The amount of work is insane.