World War II - In Color

Posted by Bruce Canfield

There have been several television programs over the past couple of years featuring Second World War film footage in color. Many of  us  who have seen countless black & white films and photographs of WWII over the years found the color footage put different perspective on things and, in many cases, made the conflict that happen 7 decades ago more vivid.  There are also a number of original color photos dating from WWII exhibiting  various degrees of tint and tone...some look like they could have been taken yesterday and others are faded and washed-out.  Most of the really great images from the war, however, are the traditional B&W photos.

My latest book on the M1 Garand Rifle was the first which had color photos, mainly of the rifles and various components, which I think that added a lot to the book.  As I started planning my next book, which will have a Second World War theme, I decided early on to use as many color images as possible.  Virtually all of the photos of the various weapons will be in color as most were taken fairly recently. However, there just aren't that many good color WWII vintage images.

It occurred to me that with today's digital technology, it possible to "colorize" B&W photos. I looked on the Internet and saw some examples that were very, very good and appeared to be genuine color photos and others where it was glaringly obvious someone didn't really know what they were doing. After some research, I contacted was able to contact a couple of "colorists" who, incidentally, are from Europe who were literal artists.  I have "commissioned" several color photos and they have turned out even better than I expected.  I'm saving those for the new book but above is "before" and "after" examples of WWII colored photos that was done by another colorist and will not be in the new book.

I think the key to whether or not the colorized images are a good idea is directly proportional to the skill of the artist and the research that was put into the work.  For example, if a uniform or equipage has an incorrect color tint, then the historical significance of the image is greatly diminished. On the other hand, if everything is "spot on," I don't think any can legitimately argue that the image is not greatly enhanced.  Sure, it may not be the "original" black & white photo. However, it should be remembered that the subject of the "original" photo wasn't black & white either.

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