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Intro to Photoshop: Faded B & W Photo Problems
Prized old photos get new life
Have you ever wanted to know how to make your old photographs better? How many times have you opened an old honored album only to find prized photos fading and damaged, seemingly beyond repair? Did you think for one moment that you could save them yourself with your Photoshop program? If you are like me, new technology is intimidating. But there are some things that are well worth the effort. Adobe Photoshop is one of those. The learning curve is not as impossible as you would think. Like many things (music, art, dance), the more you practice, the better you get at it.
One of the things that I did to practice was to assign myself weekly tasks, mostly with text effects, but also with photographs and photo-manipulation. Years ago people like you and me were stuck with a textbook and hours of head scratching. Today there are thousands of YouTube Photoshop video tutorials by lots of pioneers who have already done the head scratching for you.
I have Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud), which charges a monthly or yearly fee, as well as Adobe Photoshop CS5, the program on disc. There have been a few new advancements between the CS5 and the CS6 and the CC. Most of the tools are the same however and are used basically the same way with the same shortcuts. There are a few differences that I will share along the way.
To begin, you have to learn about some of the basics, such as where to find certain tools and how to work them. For instance, the first time I opened Photoshop, I saw there was a Paint Brush tool. As an artist I figured that I didn’t need any help working a paintbrush so I clicked onto it and nothing happened. Very disappointing. In this introduction, I will try to cover the many tools and filters used for photography and how each one can apply to your older photographs.
To start I opened a couple of old photos both from the 1920’s. One is an army picture from 1926 and the other a photo of my grandfather’s sisters picking apricots on their farm. You may not be able to see it, (I didn’t notice it until I cleaned up the photo) but there is a small boy photo-bombing the girls to the middle right in the shadows. I think it may be my grandfather in that he was the youngest in the family.
Healing Brush Tool
What to do first?
I have found there are no hard and fast rules on which you should do first, heal the dots, scratches, and artifacts or adjust the levels. So I did the healing first in the Army picture and healing last in the Apricot picture.
Healing Brush Tool
Healing Brush Tool
The Healing Brush is in the left hand Tool bar signified by an icon of a Band-Aid. Make sure the side this brush to fit the scratches and artifacts. You don’t want a huge brush to cover a little black dot on someone’s face. The healing will smudge or soften whatever it touches. You can drag the brush but it will leave often leave a soft noticeable worm-like smudge. It works much better to make small clicks with the brush, move and click again. I have made red circles around the dots and artifacts so you can see what I am healing and how it looks afterward.
Repair old photo
Clone Tool on larger problem areas
After going inch by inch and healing all the dots and scratches, then it is time to fix the larger problems. On the Army picture something appears to have been dripped or dropped onto the photo. This is too big for a healing brush. For this I had to use the Clone Tool. To make the Clone Tool work, you first have to press and hold Alt (on a PC) or Option (on a Mac) and drag the curser to a spot that is in good shape. This is what you will be “painting” or “cloning” over the damaged area. When you release, the Clone brush comes back. You can resize this using the slider bar on the top tool bar or by pressing the [ (left bracket) to make smaller or the ] (right bracket) to make it bigger. As you over the brush over the damaged area you should be able to see a “sample” or “ghost” of the place you chose to clone. This is very helpful so you can see what you are going to be placing in the new area before you click and commit yourself.
Do you think you would like to fix your precious old memories now?
Keep in mind that you can UNDO whatever you have done by pressing Control/Command+Z or by going to the menu bar above and pressing Edit>Undo. If you should have to go back more than one step Control/Command+Z won’t do it for you. This command shortcut will only go back one step. To go back go to Edit>Stepback and press this as much as you have to do undo what you change your mind about.
Build up Cloned areas
Note also that it is best to press Alt/Option often on the Clone Tool and keep choosing good spots to cover damaged spots. If you don’t it will be noticeable that you have copied one part of the photo over another part.
Some things are very hard to clone. If you notice there is a spill or tear over the soldier’s elbow on the left. There are no other elbows that will work to clone, so I very carefully cloned the background around the elbow and tried my best to build up the elbow from the other parts of the soldier’s uniform. It isn’t perfect but it looks much better than it did.
Clone before Levels
On the Apricot Picker photo, I added the Levels Filter first and then used the Healing Brush to fix the little dots and artifacts. This worked fine but it didn’t work to try to use the Clone Tool on my photo under the Levels Filter. I had to click the eyeball to make the Level’s Filter invisible while I worked on the Photo with the Clone Tool and then turn the Levels Filter back on when I was done.
To turn on the Levels Filter, press Control/Command+L or go down to the icon with a half black/half white circle at the bottom of the layers panel and click on Levels. The window will open allowing you to adjust the Input and Output levels. If the photo is too bright, then pull the right Output level with the white arrow to the left. If the photo has faded blacks pull the left Input level with the black arrow to the right. This is all a matter of personal preference and you can adjust it as you like.
After adjusting the Army photo’s Levels I noticed that the photo had a distinct sepia tone and I decided to leave it. After adjusting the Apricot Pickers photo’s Levels I noticed that the photo was very yellowed so I made one more adjustment. You will notice in the Levels Window there are three little eyedroppers. I only use these on black and white photos. I clicked on the white eyedropper and took it to a place on the photo that I felt should be the whitest white. In this case that was the middle girl’s dress. I clicked on the whitest part of her dress and the whole photo lightened up. Then I chose the black eyedropper and moved it to a place on the photo with the blackest black, in this case the shadow behind the right girl, and clicked. The darks and lights became more balanced and the yellowing went away. If you don’t like what this did, you can always Undo or press cancel.
The last thing I did was to resize these photos for Internet use. I always save the original so that I can re-edit it later if need be. I give it a name and save it in a folder where I’m sure to be able to find it again. Then I go to Image>Image Size and when the window comes up I make the longest size no more than 11 inches. If it is already below 11 inches but the Resolution is high (200 dpi or better) then I resize small photos (like 2 or 3 inches on the longest side) to about 8 or 9 inches and change the Resolution to 72 dpi. This is the best resolution for the Internet so that the image is still crisp and clear but not so large that it takes forever to load. For Facebook I usually make the photo smaller (same resolution but smaller in inches) so that the resolution won’t be good enough for people to want to steal it. I especially do this with my photos of my artwork.
I heard an artist telling about how she posted her art on Facebook and six months later found quite by accident a large billboard advertisement using her artwork in another country she was visiting. Pilfering has become a pass-time.
I hope you like what I did to fix these photos and that it helps you in the future for your photos. Have fun and remember to enjoy the process. Nothing is permanent so don’t stress.