Restoring Faded Color Photos

By Roger (26 July 2015)

When you're restoring really old photographs, you spend most of your time repairing rips, scratches, and faded monochrome tones. It can be tedious work, but most people can do it without too much trouble.

People seem to stumble, however, when confronted with an old color photo. It has been exposed to light for decades and has faded significantly.

A faded, color photo from 1971

A faded, color photo from 1971

This photo is pretty typical. How can you get those colors back? You can do a pretty good job in Lightroom if you're patient. I would spend time in the HSL/Color/BW sliders of the Develop module, if you want to use just Lightroom.

There are several good methods to try. You can find a variety of them on the web. My preferred method is using a Levels and a Threshold Layer, inside of Photoshop. This is a tried and true method that has been used for a long time (at least, in computer years).

Open the photo as a copy, so you keep your original scan. I always retouch the image, first, before I fix the colors. You can see the scratches better when you zoom in. Yikes.

Zooming shows the magnitude of the repair needed

Zooming shows the magnitude of the repair needed

We've talked about how to fix those, so let's jump ahead to the problem of faded colors.

Open a Levels layer and, then, a Threshold layer. Highlight the Levels layer.Move the White's slider (on the right) until the screen is all white. Now, slowly move it until you see some blocks of black. The top eyedropper in the Levels properties panel is to set the black point. Use it to sample the the middle of the black blocks. The image on your screen will shift; don't worry about it. The image, below, shows the these two points.

photoshop close-up

Now, just move the black slider so the screen is completely black and slowly move it until you see the first blocks of white. Use the whites eyedropper (bottom of the three eyedroppers in the Levels panel) to sample that point. The screen will change, again.

You don't need the Threshold layer anymore, so pull it into the trash can. Use the center eyedropper to sample a gray point, and your photo's color should be restored.

The difference is significant

The difference is significant

The difference is pretty dramatic. You can save the file and make further adjustments in Photoshop – maybe use your favorite plug-ins. Or take it back into Lightroom to make final changes. I would want to crop it a little to make the subject a little more prominent. With practice, you can make these color corrections in less than five minutes.

Thanks for the question, Allan.

Colorize Your Old Black and White Photos

By Roger (14 July 2015)

Both of us enjoy photo restoration projects now and then. We've done several blogs on this topic, in the past: restore your memories; repair the scan; and restoring in detail. Please, check them out for a quick reminder of how much fun this can be.

However, over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten comments and questions about how to colorize old monochrome photos. There have been several recent articles showing the results of others' work along these lines. I knew the basics of how to go about this, but I'd never tried it. I've turned lots of color photos to monochrome, but never really thought of going the other way around.

So, I looked into some specifics and several different methods. I found the easiest one to be the simple use of multiple color layers in Photoshop. It was a fun, little project and taught me a few new tricks. Although it is quick and easy, I don't think this is something I'm going to dedicate massive amounts of time to. Here is my first attempt.

Original scan of a fading photo

Original scan of a fading photo

I started with an easy photo that was in pretty good shape. You can see the photo is changing color with age, but there are only a few spots and scratches to repair. I took the photo into Photoshop; returned it to black and white; and fixed the flaws, using the basic techniques we wrote about in the blogs I linked to, above.

Restored photo

Restored photo

Once you are happy with the restoration in black and white, you should save the photo back to Lightroom. You can make some further adjustments in Lightroom if you need them. I might add some clarity or contrast and, maybe, tweak the blacks and whites. You now have the original and repaired photos in your database. I don't delete the old, scratched image because you never know when you will learn new techniques to improve your original repair.

Select the final, repaired image; right-click on it; and select “Edit in Photoshop.” When the dialog box opens, you should choose “Edit a copy with the Lightroom adjustments”, so Photoshop will create another copy of the photo.

Go to the Layer menu and select New Fill Layer ->Solid Color and pick a color for the first object you want colorize. Then add a black mask (Alt-click on the layer mask tool), and use a soft, white brush on the layer mask to reveal the color on the object. If you look at some of my layer masks, below, you'll see one labeled “white.” I created this layer using this method. I would recommend using this for small areas only, but you could continue this way until you've got a new color layer for each individual portion of the photo.

Lots of individual layers

Lots of individual layers

An easier method uses the the Quick Selection tool to select the portion of the photo you want to colorize. When you have the selection, right-click inside the selection and choose Refine Edge. Make sure you have a selection you want, and Output to: Selection when you're satisfied.

Now, just add a new color layer by selecting the Add a New Layer tool at the bottom, right of your Photoshop menu, and pick your color.

Click here for a new color layer

Click here for a new color layer

Refine Edge dialog box

Refine Edge dialog box

Photoshop creates the new layer, complete with a mask for the unselected portion of the photo. Easy. Just repeat these steps for all the items in the photo. As you can see in the screen capture of the layers, above, this is my preferred method.

For refining the effect, I used tried several different blending modes until I got the effect I liked best. By far, the most used blending modes, for me, were Overlay, Soft Light, or Color. If you want to adjust the color you chose, previously, just double click on the Color Layer icon, and pick a new color. I label each layer and keep them all separate, so I can go back to make further adjustments.

As you might imagine, the skin is the most difficult part. I used four separate color layers, with a couple of different blending modes, to get this tone. I, also, varied the opacity on the layers to fine-tune it. I'm not sure I got it perfectly correct, but I'm pretty satisfied with this first effort. There are free sample palettes of skin tones available on the internet.

My final image looks like this:

Colorized Black and White

Colorized Black and White

The baby's daughter was quite happy with the rendition, so I guess it was ok. I may try this another time. As I said, it was quite an interesting project. It took about 45 minutes, but I'm sure I could get that down to five minutes with some practice. It is a pretty easy task and lots of fun.

Gentle Reminder: Tomorrow, Amazon is having a big sale. We'd be thrilled if you hit our Amazon link on your way to their site. It won't cost you anything, but will help pay for this blog. Thanks.

Color-Managed Workflow

By Mark

 

Last week we started talking about the challenges we have in representing the full array of colors we can see with our eyes on our cameras, monitors and printers.  Hopefully, we recall our display devices can only map the colors into the RGB color space.  One of the key aspects of RGB is that is entirely device dependent.  Each manufacturer sets their own standards based upon how their proprietary technology works.  sRGB is the universal “best guess” across makers, while Adobe RGB is based upon professional quality CMYK printing.  So what can we do to make the colors we eventually display as close to what we saw, or imagined? We have to manage our end-to-end color workflow

There are three phases where we have the opportunity to control how our colors look: The camera, our monitor(s), and our prints.  Tonight we are going to talk about cameras and the monitors. 

Roger has been writing about the importance of selecting the right white balance while shooting under different lighting conditions.   Another valuable tool is the common gray card.

Gray Card

Gray Card

A gray card is exactly that; a piece which has been colored to be exactly 18% gray.  These are available in lots of forms. There is a pull-out page in the back of most of Scott Kelby’s books which can be carried in your camera bag.  I have a small plastic card on my key chain and a larger version attached to the miniature flashlight I keep in my bag.  All you have to do is include the grey card in your first picture and you will be able to correct your color afterwards in any of the editing programs.   In the Develop module, just select the eyedropper tool and move it to the grey card.  Click on it, and your colors will be fixed.   If you didn’t remember to use the grey card, just find an area closest to grey in the image and click there.  Here is a before and after image taken at night under sodium (very yellow) lights.

Before and after.PNG

Tools such as the x-rite color checker, provide even more precision.  It has software which LR and PS recognize and builds a specific color profile. 

x-rite color checker.png

Next in the chain are your monitors.  If you have two screens, you may see colors and brightness shift as you drag an image between the monitors.  Each monitor is doing its best to display the instructions from your computer to show this color and intensity of pixel at coordinates x and y.  The problem of course is that color depends on lots of unrelated factors: how old is the monitor, what is the resolution of the hardware, are the electronics warmed up, or are they cold?  The lighting of the room will change how the colors appear as well.  Do you have a big bright window washing out the screen?  What colors are the walls?  Walls will reflect the light source and may change how the colors appear.   Arrrrgh, what should you do.  Well, ideally you would have a windowless room with the walls painted that same 18% gray and only have indirect soft naturally balanced light in the room.  Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who has that kind of freedom. 

Thankfully, there are tools available to help you calibrate your monitor.  I use the Spyder3 Pro as my tool of choice, but that is only because I started with them and they have proved simple to use for me.  There are some really expensive choices-the full color monkey system is great for a professional studio and would be worth it for their purposes.

Spyder.png

They all work basically in the same way.  Find your monitor controls and the individual adjustments for the Red, Green, and Blue.  You then attach the Spyder to the monitor and run the included software and follow the directions to adjust the color values.  You then just repeat it for your other monitor.   Higher end monitors allow you to specify the output color in degrees K for each band.  You have to do this on a routine basis.  I try and reserve the last Sunday of the month for my calibration run.   You should try and work in the same lighting conditions and allow the monitors to warm up.  That used to be more critical with CRTs, but I’ve found that having the screens on for 30 minutes or so before I try and adjust them makes a difference.    OK, we will talk about the final step of translating the images on the screen into print, in an upcoming topic.  CALIBRATE your monitors this week!

 

My Picture Didn’t Look Like That On My Monitor!

Pt. 1

By Mark

It is time for us to take a little detour on our way to the Grand Canyon, and talk a little bit about color management. We often hear the sentiment expressed by the blog title when people get their photos back or try to display them on a different device than the one they worked on at home. Color Management covers a great deal of territory, so this blog will just cover some critical details.  There are volumes and tomes about the intricacies of this subject and they can make your head spin.  All of us want our images to look the way we envision them no matter the format or medium. 

One of hardest issues to wrestle with is the fact that none of us truly know how something looks to any other person on the planet.  There are people who suffer from color blindness and others whose astigmatism changes their perception of pure black into shades of gray—not 50 perhaps, but who knows?  Those factors are out of our control; but trust me, there are lots of knobs and sliders for us to work with.  We have to establish a common language to describe colors.

There are mathematical models which can tell you what wavelength the color red is—700-635 nanometers, but that doesn’t really help in fixing an image.  The human eye operates between ~400 and 700 nm but, unfortunately, our electronic devices such as printers and monitors can’t accurately reproduce all of the potential color combinations. A key term we need to know is GAMUT.  It is the specific subset of colors which can be displayed. 

Full Gamut of Visible Colors

Full Gamut of Visible Colors

The next key concept we need to know is COLOR SPACE.  A color space is a common set of standards that define a specific Gamut and which can describe a particular color.  In photography, we commonly use three of these: CMYK, L.A.B., and RGB.

CMYK is the most common for professional printing jobs.  Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black are combined to create rich deep colors. 

CMYK space.png

L.A.B. takes a completely different approach. As shown in the picture, you have an a channel which starts at green and goes towards the magenta. The b channel goes from blue to yellow.  A separate Lightness channel describes how far out from the black center a specific color sits.  L.A.B. can be very powerful in color correction, but is not the focus of this blog.

L.A.B. Space

L.A.B. Space

We normally work in the RGB color space.  Red, Green and Blue colors are mixed together to form all of the remaining colors. 

RGB

RGB

Unfortunately, RGB does not cover all of the colors that we can see.  There are two common RGB formats we need to understand: Adobe RGB 1998 and sRGB.  sRGB is actually the format used by most electronics. It covers about 35% of visible color.   Adobe RGB covers about 50% and more closely maps to the color range available in CMYK printers.  

RGB versus visible colors

RGB versus visible colors

Amazingly, at best, we are currently able to reproduce only half of the colors our eyes and brains can see.  As technology increases, other formats such as Pro Photo RGB are gaining ground. 

Whew, that is a lot of stuff to take in and we have not even started talking about how we can manage our work.  I guess that will have to wait until next week.