Fun with colouring

Recently, newly coloured-in versions of vintage black-and-white photographs have been appearing in newspapers and online news sites. The realism of the colouring compares favourably with genuine vintage colour photography.  The work is usually attributed to a ‘professional colourist’. Quite a few websites have also sprung up filled with similarly coloured-in images of historic photographs.

There are so many of these images that it would have surely taken an army of specialists to have created them all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the real explanation of how the images are produced lies with the latest abilities of computers using artificial intelligence. A technique called ‘deep learning’ (more traditionally known as ‘artificial neural networks’) allows a computer program to analyse millions of colour photographs and to make associations between between structure and colour. The program can carry out this process without any additional guidance or instruction. After a period of time spent studying photographs, the computer program is able to predict the hues in an image with a high degree of success. The predictions of the fully-trained program can then be used to colour-in a monochrome image.

We thought it might be a fun experiment to try bringing a bit of colour into some old black and white Cippenham photographs. On the images below, to see a version  which has been coloured by the computer program, move the mouse pointer over the image and click the arrow that appears on the right.

Firstly, here is the supposed Haymill water wheel from  Greg’s farm, probably taken in the eighties.

W. R(?). DELL & SON. ENGINEERS. LONDON & CROYDON
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This is a rare picture of Cippenham Lane looking west showing the Girls High School boundary fence. The date is unknown  but the National Speed Limit sign was introduced in 1965 and the photo couldn’t be many years later.

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You could try this out for yourself if you have some scanned images. Follow this link to upload and process your old photos. Send us your results.

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