Two weeks of work, off and on, and I’ve finished my colorization of Washington’s 19th-century baseball field, Swampoodle Grounds.
The “heavy lifting” — the field itself, the McDowell & Sons building over the wall in right-center, a couple of buildings toward center, the sky itself — was accomplished two weeks ago in a blitz of work. What remained were various touch-ups — telephone (or telegraph) poles, whatever was beyond the right field wall (it was murky to my eyes), some spot colorization of other, more distant buildings to add a touch of color, getting the Capitol dome right. I’d fire up GIMP, work with it for an hour, and I’d get a little closer to completion.
The most difficult thing, frankly, was determining what, exactly, was beyond the right field wall. I could see that there was something there, but it was murky, and inverting the original photograph of Swampoodle to make a negative and bring out details didn’t answer any questions. I could discern trees. Beyond that? Uhh…
To my surprise, I discovered that a painting based on the photograph existed, and there I could see clearly what was beyond the wall. There were buildings, almost certainly the classic Washington rowhouses. In some ways, what I have there is a “best guess”; edges are fairly indistinct there, and there’s some uncertainty about where buildings end.
The painting also showed that the outfield wall was painted a dark green, but I like the look of leaving it plain black. The advertisements were also different colors, but I decided to leave those alone.
I wanted cloud cover, partly to cover up how grungy the sky in the original photograph is, so I spent the last two weeks taking pictures of clouds whenever I had a chance and a generally clear shot at them (ie., buildings and power lines out of the way, not to mention no obvious contrails). I tried various photographs I’d taken, some going back years, but when I would plug them in as a layer none really worked for me. Maybe they were too oppressive, maybe they looked too weird, maybe, even with Gaussian blur to “age” them, they looked too sharp and too modern.
Thursday I went outside on my lunch break, and I saw clouds that I thought might work. I snapped a few photos, and when I looked at them at home Thursday night I discovered that they looked very muddy. The reason? I had spilled my coffee on the table where my phone was resting that morning, and the coffee had dirtied the lens, resulting in some photos that were blurry and had a yellow-ish tinge. I took one of the photos, scaled it to the dimensions that matched my work (which added a slight vertical distort), used a Gaussian blur to smudge it some more, and plugged it into my photo.
And it looked right.
I desaturated the original sepia-toned photograph (which makes the colors pop), flattened the image, and it was done. One hundred and thirty years later, Swampoodle Grounds lived and breathed in color once more.
I keep admiring my handiwork. I’m really happy with the result.