To colorize or not to colorize …

With so many people experimenting with and sharing the colorized versions of their black-and-white family photos through MyHeritage In Color™, I decided to take a few minutes to experiment and get in on the action.

MyHeritage provides a feature that allows you to upload a black-and-white photo, then wait a few minutes to see a colorized version. A nifty slider between the two versions allows you to compare them. It’s an impressive feature, and the creators have apparently anticipated concerns by providing an embossed symbol in the bottom left corner of each colorized photo to indicate that it is a colorized version and not an original.

Still … I wonder if in our eagerness to acquire authenticity we risk somehow losing it. The colors are not necessarily true to life , although in most cases they are probably close. I am sure it will become technically better over time, eliminating problems like the strange tint created by the shadows on my grandfather’s arms or the darkened lips on the two girls, both shown below. As far as I can tell, when the program is uncertain it defaults to a grayscale tone, at least for now. I’d be more concerned about colors coming to be seen as true that weren’t … us starting to see colorized versions as reality, when they aren’t. It’s also possible I’m overthinking this because I do that.

I tend to be overly careful with things like this … and maybe I’ve just become unnaturally attached to the black and white versions of my ancestors … but while I’m sure I’ll have fun experimenting with this feature, I suspect I will use it sparingly, at first, with anything I might share. Many people are loving it, though, and I’m open to being persuaded that I should give up any reservations.  A few of my colorized ancestors appear below.

Family of Arie and Mattie Kreykes, my great-grandparents, Sioux County, Iowa.



My grandfather, Carl Hendrickson, with my father as a baby, Sioux City, Iowa.



My mother, left, with her cousin, right. Plymouth or Sioux County, Iowa.

cousins cousins-colorized

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3 Responses to To colorize or not to colorize …

  1. Amy says:

    I agree with your concerns. I think it’s terrible to distort reality. It’s one thing to hire a professional who researches the times and the colors to try and create an accurate rendition. It’s another to pop a photo into an app and get a random selection of colors. Your three examples are good examples of how inaccurate these are. Was that girl’s dress really black? Was their skin that sallow? In the top photo, were they all really wearing black? Was there skin all that same pink tone? I doubt it. I much prefer the original black and white. I have no problem when a photo editor adjusts brightness or adds some focus or lets you remove rips and spots. But changing the color? I don’t think so. I’ve also seen people ask to have things and people photoshopped out of a photo. Talk about distorting history!

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Amy! I know some people feel it makes the photo subjects seem more real. I do get that, and it’s interesting to try it out. But there is a uniformity to the skin tones that seems unrealistic to me, even for a family, and I really want to know whether the people in the group photo were wearing all black … because I am not sure when that photo was taken … a funeral or in a more celebratory studio setting? Like I said, I’m trying not to be a wet blanket, but I sometimes think leaving things to the imagination is better than settling on wrong information. Maybe that’s why the program seems to default to black and white when it’s not clear, and I do think that’s better than choosing some random color. I’ll stay noncommittal, but I am content to continue using black and white photos for now.

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