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Repairing Black-and-White Photos in Photoshop 7

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Explore the uses of various tools for repairing black-and-white pictures and also learn how to spruce up the photos with tints and vignetting.
This chapter is from the book

Fixing damaged or "just plain lousy" pictures is the number one reason why most people buy Photoshop. It can really work miracles on old, torn, faded photographs, and it can also make up for most, if not all, of the flaws in your snapshots. Photoshop can be used to recompose a picture that's off-center, tilted, or has too much empty space. You can edit out the power lines and trash cans that spoil the landscape. You can even remove unwanted former spouses, or that awful boyfriend your daughter finally dumped, from family portraits. It's nowhere near as difficult to get rid of them on screen.

Easy Fixes

Let's start by looking at some of the things you can do to fix up an old picture that might have faded, yellowed, or been damaged. First, we'll consider a couple of old family photos that need a little bit of adjusting and touching up. We'll run (literally) through the steps involved in fixing them and the tools you'll need to know how to use. (Remember, you can always flip to the front of the book to refresh your memory about these tools, too.) Finally, we'll take an extremely damaged picture and work through it step by step, until it looks like new again.

Some pictures don't need very much work. The photo in Figure 21.1 has mainly composition problems. The elegant lady has had the top of her head and her hand cut off, whereas the barn behind her just looks silly. We'll re-crop to get rid of the barn, and rebuild the lady's missing pieces. This photo could also use a little more contrast.

Figure 21.1 This needs relatively minor repairs.

To fix this picture, we first crop the borders to remove the edges and the barn. Then, resize the canvas by enough to include the top of her head and her missing fingers. Set the mode to Grayscale, which removes any color information that the scan picked up. Doing this immediately eliminates the yellow and brown tones. Next, we use Curves (Image→Adjust→Curves) to tweak the contrast a little. By using Curves, we can lighten the light tones without affecting the darks. In Figure 21.2, the very slight curve in the window lets you see just how subtle this adjustment is.

Figure 21.2 The curve adjustment is very slight.

The next step is to rebuild the body parts. I can copy and paste randomly selected hunks of background because it's just foliage with little or no detail. First I'll fill in over her head (see Figure 21.3) and then I'll use a Brush tool to draw the missing part of the hat.

Figure 21.3 Ready to paint in the hat.

Then I'll select a strip at the left edge of the photo and paste it on another layer so that the car and her hand are extended by a couple of inches. Some quick use of the Smudge Tool to blend the edges, and we're almost done. The final step in this restoration is to apply the Dust & Scratches filter to remove any specks we missed. The result, seen in Figure 21.4, is much better.

Figure 21.4 Well-preserved photos, regardless of age, can be digitally improved.


Many Photoshop users make a habit of applying the Dust & Scratches filter (Filter→Noise→Dust & Scratches) to every scanned photo. This is often a mistake because, although it does make dust particles less obvious, it also softens the focus of the picture. If you decide to try it, evaluate the results carefully. Use the Preview check box to toggle back and forth, turning the filter preview on and off until you're certain that it's an improvement.

Here's another fairly old photo, shot in 1954. (I know. The kid in the raincoat is me.) This one is in much worse shape. It is both yellowed and faded, and cracked in several places. Because it was raining when the photo was shot, the contrast wasn't very good. The untouched photo is shown in Figure 21.5. Can we rescue it?

Figure 21.5 This one needs more serious work.

Again we'll start by cropping and then go to Grayscale mode to get rid of the yellow tones. There's a good deal that can be cropped out of the background of this photo, improving the composition (see Figure 21.6).

The contrast ratio in this picture isn't as good as in the previous one, so our next step will be to attempt to improve it. The Levels dialog box shows the histogram for this picture, which tells us that the whites are too white and the darks not dark enough. The best way to learn to make these adjustments is to work on a copy of a bad picture, and simply experiment with the settings until the picture looks the way you want. Notice what happens when you move the sliders to the right or left. Figure 21.7 shows the corrections so far.

Figure 21.6 Cropping can remove some of the problem areas.

Figure 21.7 Changing the Levels settings adjusts the contrast.

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