The Internet Top Picture Colorist

Aug 1, 2022

Olga Shirnina

By E. Husen

Olga Shirnina is the Internet top picture colorist and probably one of the world’s best. Besides the House of the Romanovs, she colorized other royal families photographs, Hollywood stars and many old miscellaneous pictures. Her colorization style is very special, real, authentic and full of life. I had the pleasure to ask Ms. Shirnina a few questions:

Editor: Who or what encouraged you to get into the world of photo colorization?
Ms. Shirnina: I'm a German/Russian translator. When one has to translate a long and boring text there is always a temptation to do something else, at least for a while. First I just played with graphic editors entertaining my friends with photomontage. Some images worked out well except black and white. I searched the Internet for ways to add colors to black and white images and made my first attempts. Then I got a book about color theory to translate and it helped to structure my knowledge about colors, I learned a lot about color harmonies, complementary colors, etc. And of course I wanted to put it into practice. It was so interesting that I got involved in this more and more. Then I was invited by Mr. Doug Banks from the UK to a Colorists community and saw how many people from different countries, professions and ages have the same hobby as I do. It was amazing and gave a new impulse to my work.
Editor: What makes the colors of your pictures look ‘real’?
Ms. Shirnina: In my first steps, I followed the lessons I found on the Internet but the results didn’t satisfy me for reasons: 1. the techniques were too complicated and 2. the colors didn't look ‘real’. So, being a lazy person, I tried to find an easier way. The main idea was very simple: I took colors from modern color photos and used several layers to achieve the result ‘as if that old picture was taken with a smartphone or a modern camera’. It is not always possible because of the quality of old photos but if people say ‘it looks as if it was taken yesterday’ then it was a success.
Editor: Is there a story behind the handle ‘Klimbim’ or why you decided to use it?
Ms. Shirnina: I needed something short and simple to mark my colorings and since it wasn't something serious to me, kind of entertaining, so I thought of ‘Klimbim’ ⁠— a German word meaning something like ‘knick-knack, odds and ends, bits and bobs, etc.’
Editor: What was the first picture you colorized that became trending, spread like wild fire and brought unprecedented attention to you?
Ms. Shirnina: No idea! I enjoyed my hobby peacefully and felt comfortable among the Colorists community where all were so friendly to each other at the time. I didn't think about publicity because I was sure that colorization is not to everyone's taste. And then I noticed that I am getting more and more visitors to my pages. The reason probably was that from Hollywood beauties, which is very good for trying new techniques, then I changed to historical photos and there are many history lovers and experts. After someone posted my colorings on Russian websites, I got tons of critics: they noticed the smallest buttons on the uniforms and if the color was ‘wrong’, etc. But it taught me indeed to be more careful with details. Anyway, I think the most popular coloring I have made is that of the Romanov family. Firstly, it really turned out well and secondly, it still causes discussions because of the Tsar’s shirt. Many people think that it should be Khaki or ‘Russian green’ but in fact it was Raspberry-Red! Mr. Andrey Malov, an expert in military uniforms, helped me to colorize this image correctly in the historical context.

 Colorized photograph exclusively presented by Ms. Shirnina: A.P. Chekhov reading his play 'The Seagull' to the artists of the Moscow Art Theater, 1899.

Editor: Do you know if any of the descendants of the House of Romanovs expressed their admiration of the colorized photographs or your work?
Ms. Shirnina: Not that I know of. Actually, most of their photos I colorized are for the book “The Romanov Royal Martyrs”. May be some of the descendants have seen it.
Editor: Are there any other hobbies that you have besides colorization?
Ms. Shirnina: Reading, traveling and sometimes cooking. Lately I discovered a great recipe of how to fry delicious quails fast and easy. And tomorrow I'm going to buy strawberries from local farmers and make a flavorsome jam.
Editor: What is your favorite music or who do you usually like to listen to?
Ms. Shirnina: My music collection is sort of eclectic: classic, pop, folk and rock but almost all not modern things. Liana "Fado", Russian folk songs, Maria Callas and Orthodox Chants, Eugen Cicero and Glenn Gould, etc., depending on what I'm doing or in what mood I'm in. A friend told me, not long ago, about Jeff Buckley and now I'm a fan of him though his music makes me sad sometimes.

In turn, I’d like to say on behalf of the Herald Tribune magazine, keep up the good work Ms. Shirnina, you really are doing a unique job and we truly wish you the best of luck in your life, career and hobbies.