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Restoring Old Photos


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Restoring Old Photos

5 May 2022 2:18PM   Views : 359 Unique : 230

I've talked about scanning old images before, and while many will require little post production tweaks some require much more wok to regain their former glory.

Time can take its toll on everything and photos are no exception. While browsing through my collection recently I came across some old family photos taken by my parents. They had in fact been copied onto transparency film around 20 years or so ago so weren't the original originals. They were copied from medium format using a film SLR and macro lens, with a light panel (normally used for sorting slides and negatives) for illumination.

It's a method that's still suggested today (albeit using a digital camera). It requires perfect alignment and ensuring no extraneous light hits the negative. I will, at some point, find the originals and try scanning them with my flatbed scanner which can handle the negative sizes in question. It's more precise and ot Heath Robinson, but that said the copying technique has provided me with very good results so I can't really complain or dismiss it.
The images in question are over 50 years old. The one of my sister and me would be late 1967 or perhaps early 1968 and the colours are perfect. A couple of dust spots removed and a very slight Curves adjustment and there you go. If they were all like that.

It's when images need a lot of work that I'm going to talk about here.


A copy of the original negative

I use Curves for contrast adjustment and exposure tweaks. Levels and Shadow/Highlight adjustments often play a part too. After a few goes it's quite easy to recognise what works best. If I've photographed a negative, rather than scanned it I Invert the tones then use the colour picker to sample the orange mask in the Wite Balance dialog to get somewhere close to normal looking tones. Of course, with faded colours and the possibility of the original being shot in conditions other than 5500K daylight the following colour adjustments become at least useful if nbot important. You can always sample a likely neutral tone in the image if that helps.


Image tones inverted and Levels adjusted

Colour Balance is an extremely useful tool. White Balance helps to set the overall colour in terms of warm and cool rendition and to adjust green/magenta casts. That's fine for images shot as digital originals or film images that haven't suffered over time. Colour Balance allows individually adjustment of cyan/red balance, green/magenta balance and blue/yellow balance separately in the shadows, mid-tones and highlights. This is very important as he dyes in the colour layers can fade at different rates. In fact not just important but very powerful too. This may sound tricky or involved but doesn't take long to get the hang of.

Vibrance and Saturation adjustments can be used to strengthen weak colours.




Examples of Colour Balance adjustments

Work with Adjustment Layers so you can go back and make changes, because boosting saturation or adjusting exposure can make some colour casts more obvious. Yes you need to invest a little time but it's worth it and you have so much control to give you a satisfying result that is so much beter than using automatic 'restore colours' options.
I run the Chromatic Aberration filter to remove colour fringing, and the Defringe tool is also useful, as old cameras and lenses weren't as good as modern gear.

Even so, some images have so little colour in them a 'full colour' result wasn't possible but that doesn't matter. The different colour layers can fade at different rates so there may for example be little or no cyan component to play with. Indeed the colour rendition of those films back in the day wouldn't necessarily have been what we're used to today, and trying too hard risks creating a caricature rather than a good restoration.
Restoring colour and contrast can thus sometimes be quite involved. Removal of dust spots and scratches finishes the job nicely.


The final result

How much or how little of all the above adjustments you make is up to you. Do you retain the 'imperfections' like chromatic aberration or try to counter those colour casts? Do you want to retain those colour 'issies' as part of the character of the original film or the faded nature as an accurate portrayal of the current state of the negative? For serious archiving the latter is a must (because you need an accurate record of the current state, and provide a starting point for any future archivist or restorer to work on, or even to revisit yourself when you may have improved your own processing skills). Of course there's no reason not to make a copy and work on that.

A fully restored image will be appreciated and enjoyed, and the result may even be better than the original print.


Only small tweaks were required here due to the copying process rather than the state of the original

Text Keith Rowley 2022. Images Ronald Rowley

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Robert51 Avatar
Robert51 14 12 147 United Kingdom
8 May 2022 12:19PM
Thank you Keith for sharing these with us all.
Restoring old photos is something most of us with do at sometime. Great to see what you have done and the use of the color balance is something I use for color grading a lot of my image.
With portraits I often add blue to the shadows and add the yellows to the highlights.
Looking at the image I just lovewhat you have managed to do with the image. I hope you don't mind I took your final image and to take it on without the loss of that feel to the image. I used a 1960 LUT to keep that look (I hope)...


Please click on the image.

The last lot I did was when the wife's mum died and I wanted everyone of the family to have a copy of all the photo's, and there was a lot. I had to restore most of them. I even found some of my own images among her collection that I didn't know she had...

Great job Keith.
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
11 May 2022 4:49PM
Thanks Robert.

An interesting mod. Restoring colour and keeping a vintage look is always a bakancing act, but it's fun and rewarding when it works out.

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