Dirt Question

Hey guys.....friendly pest asking for you advice again as to what you would do.....I'm having conflicting doubts the best way to proceed as I want it to look convincing so I came to a screeching halt to ask your option before proceeding.

A little back ground...I've been extremly lucky having lots of old photos from my home town sent to me for restoration colorizing and repair to practice on lately.....Everyone back home is always so excited to see the old town buildings that's long gone come back to life the way it use to be in our childhood....we all have learned a lot history wise also.

Now I have been contacted and given access to a extensive collection of 1800's to 1900 old photos to play with that no one gets to see as it was a private collection of a elderly historian.....as it's a private collection and the work I do on them will be posted and shown to everyone online back home to enjoy for the first time I want it to look correct

So this leads me to my Topic question.....As normal for the era there are a lot old dirt streets with ruts, sand beds, grass and weeds, all black and whites or sepia colored which I convert to black and white then color

How would you add the colorisation of Dirt tones in "color" mode so it looks well like dirt and sand or do you use the brush to create the dirt texture? What would you do?


Staff member
For me, I've found that there is not a single technique that works in all situations, without variety, you'll find yourself stuck in a rut..........no pun intended.

No need to show the entire photo, but you could post the lower half of one which includes the dirt as an example so that we might experiment with.
Thanks for answering Sam ....Yeah I've cropped out down for you.
First the original
Second pic is where I stopped at today to evaluate how to proceed when I wrote and asked what the road was made of back then and the re edits I got to change




Staff member
Coloring dirt is subtle. I use Color Fill layers set to color blending mode with layer masks and the Brush Tool. This utilizes the ultimate in adjust ability in both color and where and how heavy the color is placed.

Your sample was too small to work with. Here is an image of a dirt road.
Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 4.33.09 PM.png

Here is the image after I added some color to the dirt.
(I have not adjusted the color as this is just an example)
Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 4.50.14 PM.png

In looking at the layer mask you can see that I used a soft brush with a lowered flow rate to 1%. Since I'm using a Wacom tablet, I also "ticked" on the Brush pressure controls opacity.
I used deliberate and directional strokes with varying degrees of pressure.
I did not want to create hard edges that would look unnatural. I wanted nice blended edges.
Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 4.33.39 PM.png

If required, I would go back and adjust the mask to exclude any parts of the road that did not nee the dirt color or needed to be a different color.
Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 4.46.12 PM.png
Not wanting to put a downer on things, you're doing a great job, but just think about what it is you are doing...

If you have a full colour 8bit image then each pixel can be one of 16.7 million colours (ish)...and thats a lot.

If you have a greyscale image, each pixel can only be one of 256 colours...and that isn't a lot.

With a quick bit of mathS that means that any pixel in a greyscale image COULD have been any one of 65536 colours originally.

Therefore it stands to reason that your chances of getting the right colour for any given greyscale pixel is 1:65536.

Lets just say the odds are stacked against you.

So, if you don't quite get it right then I'm sure nobody will complain, and if they do just quote some figures at them!! :thumbsup:

Sobering thought Mr. Tom ;)
As with all his pieces I made no promises as some are quite terriable but I try my best to do the best of my ability learning and practicing provides and he understands that as he wants me to continue practicing ......I think he will understand if I get it a little bit off but I didn't want to make a mess and him think hard of me.
Update: Finished the photo with Sams notes in hand and they didn't ever know the struggle I had ...lol....best comments ever for realism as the old timers said and brought back fond memories.... even though I know I could have done more for clarity and further colorisation but for practice it was enough. Thank you again Sam