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Repairing old color photographs, and some "how to"

Mosca

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I've been fixing a lot of old family photos from the '50s. Man, it's tough. I asked my dad about it, he said that he just took them to the drugstore and had them processed.

Well, first, I can tell when he took them somewhere else! Almost all of them have a pink cast. But one roll has a yellow cast. The yellow shots came back very nicely, the pink ones less so.

Here are some examples. (I scanned earlier shots at 96dpi, later ones @ 200dpi.)

pink:

img003.jpg


img004copy.jpg



yellow:

img194.jpg


img187.jpg



And I can tell when we moved, and Dad started taking the film somewhere else; colors are still pretty good today, and the prints are on a different sort of paper and are indexed differently. No examples needed, they look like photos. I don't know if it's a different lab, or if all proceesing improved at the same time we moved; it doesn't matter, photos from about 1959 on are easy to work with.

Here's what I do. First, I'm using an Epson photo scanner. Integral to the scanner is color correction software, which is of varying utility. On photos where color is already close, it's not bad, but on shots like the examples above it can make them actually harder to get right. For example, this is actually harder to get right than the original pink cast image:

img004.jpg


I'm not sure why. I'm guessing that it spreads the colors to the point where corrections become harder to make.


My experience level with this stuff is medium. I'm really damn good with Adobe Lightroom 3. I have trouble remembering all the stuff that Photoshop CS5 can do. And I just got Elements with the scanner. I like Elements because the basic engine behind it is the same as CS5, but the sliders are more intuitively marked for amateurs.

First rule, get the skin tone right. Simple: under the edit tab on the right, there's a subtab called Guided. Choose it, and choose "correct skin tone". Eyedropper to face! Then, use only the blush slider; slide it all the way to the right. You'll need all the red you can get later on. Choose "done".

Next, you can try "remove color cast". Give it a click, put the eyedropper to an area known to be gray, and see what happens. If you like the result, choose "done" and move on; if you don't, chose "reset" and exit. Too often, though, it sets the colors to the same as what's in the automatic software shown above.

Next, choose the "Quick" tab. Here's where it gets creative. You have sliders for highlight, midtone, and shadow, for tint, hue, saturation, and temperature. This is basically Adobe Camera Raw for jpegs. I start with hitting the "auto" buttons for everything! Reason: see what happens. If you don't like it, go up to the top and choose the "edit" dropdown, and "undo". Usually, though, it doesn't work. So, "undo", and first bump saturation until it's just over what looks real. Then play with temp, tint, and hue, paying attention to red. You're trying to strike a balance between green and red. Yellow will follow. Sorry, there's no blue left in your photo if it's faded to the pink, and there's very little if it's faded to the yellow. Every now and then, tweak the saturation down, to see what it looks like. Bring the midtones up and down, correct a blown flash by reducing the highlight slider, bring up some darkness with the shadow slider. EVERYTHING YOU DON'T LIKE, GO BACK TO "UNDO". And, this is important: every now and then, hit "auto" next to "color" and see what happens. The selection is "auto from where you are now", not "auto from the original image". If you're close, this might finish it up for you. If not, hit "undo". IF YOU ARE SO FAR FROM THE ORIGINAL THAT YOU HAVE NO HOPE OF GETTING IT RIGHT: go to the "edit" tab at top and choose "revert". It undoes all the changes and lets you start over from the original scan. Once you get everything where you think the colors are balanced, move the "saturation" slider down or up to where everything looks real enough.

Next try the "sharpen" slider. A little goes a long way. Remember, these are almost always people shots, and people look better soft. Aotosharp is too sharp. I usually add between 5 and 10; these are for computer viewing, not printing, and pixels need some sharpening.

The biggest problem is that blue is completely gone from most of them. There's only one solution to this: add blue. On the far right is a lasso tool. Outline the area you want blued, and make it blue with the temperature slider. This isn't as hard as it sounds. Put the tool in an area, click, and move the mouse around; the tool selects an area. If it overselects, up in the left corner you can choose a "deselect" option, and push the dotted line to where you want it. Here's an example. Notice, no blue in the first attempt at correction:

img011.jpg


img011copy.jpg


img011copycopy.jpg


Yeah, I bumped the saturation a little at the end, to balance the upper and lower as best I could.

There is also a "make dull skies blue" tool on the far left, at the bottom. I haven't had any luck with that, but you might. If it doesn't work, (all at once now) choose "UNDO".

Now, I have to get back to my photos, I only have about a thousand left....
 
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Mosca

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You can't add blue globally, it messes with the red, turns it purple.

img002.jpg


img001-Edit.jpg


img001-Edit-Editcopy.jpg


The last image, it could use some downtoning of the highlights, but the information is gone; any less and gray patches show up in Mum's face. You have to remember: balance.



And, you eventually need to unsaturate, but you'll see that.


The key to doing it all with confidence are the "undo" and "revert"buttons. You have complete freedom to mess around, to make your shot all blue, all black, all white, whatever you want. Also: always choose "save as a copy" and the absolute highest resolution you can. These are all small files, and they're jpegs, which means they're already compressed, and degraded a tiny bit by editing. From here on they'll need all the information preserved that you can give them, so, save the original information as scanned, and then save as much edited information as you can.
 
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Lets Get Going

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Phenominal Job!

You did an incredible job on those photos! I've been sorting through all my old photos and trying to get good reprints from drugstores with zero luck. I've about given up. Congrats on yours! Are you for hire????
 

Mosca

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Thanks! But I have about a thousand more to go, haha. Most important is that anyone can do this with confidence, as long as you know how to reverse changes and save as copies (or work from copies, either way). All my research that I did before starting, the answer always boiled down to "play around with the sliders until it looks right." Regardless of what was being used, Corel, or Adobe, or anything.

If you're going to do this to print them, scan at the 200dpi. You can do the fixes, save them to a CD, or USB stick, and take them to get printed. You can buy a decent Epson photo scanner for under $100, and it includes not just the color correction software but also scratch, stain, spot, and tear correction that works pretty well. (Other brands may work as well, I use an Epson.)
 

Mosca

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I've been working on figuring this out some more, and I've gotten to this:

img004copy4.jpg


I got the dress colors right (Mum would never have put my blue-eyed sister in a green dress), separated the desk from the floor, and brought out the color in Mum's skirt (a green and red tartan). But this took quite some time, and might not be worth it over a couple hundred photos.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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I've been working on figuring this out some more, and I've gotten to this:

img004copy4.jpg


I got the dress colors right (Mum would never have put my blue-eyed sister in a green dress), separated the desk from the floor, and brought out the color in Mum's skirt (a green and red tartan). But this took quite some time, and might not be worth it over a couple hundred photos.
Can your software either memorize the settings or memorize the steps in a macro? Then you might be able to at least start from that point with the photos that are in that group.

Interesting that you post this, as just a couple of nights ago I scanned some of our family photos from about 25 years ago, where the film had faded. (BTW - the differences in fade in my photos seem to be the film I used rather than who developed the photos). After trying to restore the colors I gave up and converted to B&W - I found that using an infraded conversion with small grain size and just a touch of flare gave better results than a straight B&W.
 

Mosca

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Can your software either memorize the settings or memorize the steps in a macro? Then you might be able to at least start from that point with the photos that are in that group.

Interesting that you post this, as just a couple of nights ago I scanned some of our family photos from about 25 years ago, where the film had faded. (BTW - the differences in fade in my photos seem to be the film I used rather than who developed the photos). After trying to restore the colors I gave up and converted to B&W - I found that using an infraded conversion with small grain size and just a touch of flare gave better results than a straight B&W.


It helps to know the original colors. Some of it can be macro'd, and if I stuff everything into Lightroom 3 I can batch process it, but when it comes to specific colors it's time to get the lasso tool, outline stuff and go to work. It's painstaking, and for this type of photo not worth it.

I did the b&w conversion, and my sisters like bad color better. :shrug: Oh well. Each can always change it to b&w if she changes her mind.

I have about 300 shots on the family website now, with about 700 to go. My intent is to have them so that each can copy and download and make an album of her own, using shots from the time after these and along with their husbands photos to make something personal to them, for their own family.
 
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