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Repairing Color Photos in Photoshop 7

Bring your color photos to life on the screen by learning how to retouch the existing color and to remove unwanted color.
This chapter is from the book

Last hour, we worked on some black-and-white pictures that needed help. This hour, we'll do the same with color pictures. You can adjust the colors to fix a picture that's faded with age or has too much red, green, or some other color in it. You can compensate for slight-to-moderate underexposure or overexposure, but you can't put back an image that's just not there, unless you paint it in.

You can take the red out of your daughter's eyes or the unearthly green out of the cat's eyes. Does your teenager wonder how she'd look with orange or green hair or a half-shaved head? Try it on the screen first. Maybe she'll settle for a second set of earrings.

Color Retouching

So far, all the pictures we've worked on are old, black-and-white photos. You can use most of the same tools and tricks in color. You might find that color retouching is even easier than working in black-and-white. The color tends to disguise some of the manipulation.

Figure 22.1 is a picture that was taken sometime in the early 1970s. I don't know what happened to it. Perhaps it was left on a radiator or in the sun. Maybe it wasn't processed right. Whatever the case, it's turned dark and lost saturation. With a little luck, and some hard work, we can try to bring the bridesmaids back enough to see their faces. Feel free to download the picture from the Sams Web site and work along. It's called bridesmaids.jpg.

Figure 22.1 This picture turned dark with age.

To Do: Apply a Simple Color Correction to a Photo

First, look at the Channels palette, shown in Figure 22.2. You can immediately see that the darkest channel is the blue one. This means that there's too much blue in the image. The good news is that there's good detail on all three channels, suggesting that we should be able to balance the colors and save the photo.

Figure 22.2 We need to add more blue to balance the red and blue.

Using the Curves window, as shown in Figure 22.3, I can lower the the curve of the blue channel to remove most of the unwanted color. Rather than trying to remove it all, which would take away the flesh tones, it's better to compromise. To adjust a single color with the Curves window:

  1. With the image open, open the Curves window (Image→Adjust→Curves).

  2. Choose the color that needs adjusting from the pop-up Channels menu. Choose Red, Green, or Blue if those colors need lessening. If you decide the problem is with cyan, magenta, or yellow, consider the color wheel, and work with the complementery color. If there's too much yellow, add blue. If there's too much magenta, add green. If there's too much cyan, add red. In this case, we obviously need to add yellow. But, there's no yellow curve, so we decrease the blue instead.

  3. Drag the curve up to increase the amount of the color. Drag it down to decrease the amount by adding the complement. Watch the preview as you drag. Click OK when the colors look right (see Figure 22.3).

Figure 22.3 After correcting the blue, you can also adjust the red and green as needed.

This photo needs some additional tweaking to increase the saturation now that we've taken out the excess blue. It also needs some brightness and contrast adjustment, and some spot removal. Be sure to see the final picture in the color section. It's a big improvement.

Fixing Red Eye

You've seen red eye. It's not a problem in black-and-white photos that you colorize, but it's often a problem in color pictures of people and animals taken with a flash camera.

Basically what happens is that the flash reflects off the blood vessels at the back of the eye and puts an eerie, red glow into the pupils of anyone looking straight at the flash. Some cats, by the way, can also display a similar phenomenon called green eye, which is caused by the flash reflecting off crystals in the back of the eye. You can avoid this if you make sure that your portrait subject, human or otherwise, isn't looking directly at the flash. Also, make sure that there's plenty of light in the room so that the subject's pupils have contracted as small as possible.

Figure 22.4 shows a portrait of a cat suffering from serious red eye. This one was shot in a dark room and the flash caught the cat staring wide-eyed. If we correct the off-color eyes, it will be a nice picture.

Figure 22.4 Even printed in black-and-white, the eyes look wrong. On the color plate, they're scary!

To Do: Correct Red Eye

The correction is actually quite easy. Here's how to do it:

  1. Open the image and zoom in on the eyes by clicking the Magnifying Glass.

  2. Use the Magic Wand to select the parts that need to be corrected (see Figure 22.5).

  3. Figure 22.5 Cat's eye selected at 200% magnification.

  4. Choose the Paint Bucket Tool. Set the foreground color to black. Double-click the tool icon to open the Tool Options window and set the Paint mode to Darken with an Opacity of about 80%. This setting darkens the eye while maintaining the detail.

  5. Pour the paint carefully into the pupils of the eyes, making sure not to pour it into any white or colored highlights in the pupil. You might need to click different selected parts of the pupil to cover it all. If you accidentally fill one of the highlights, undo. If you want to accent the highlights more, use a single-pixel pencil (select the smallest possible brush size) and touch up as needed.

  6. Press Command+H (Mac) or Control+H (Windows) to hide the selection so that you can evaluate the effect of the change. Figure 22.6 shows the finished cat.

Figure 22.6 Highlights in the pupils are called catchlights.

The semi-opaque black that we poured in effectively darkened the pupils without losing detail. You can use this technique any time you have a small area in a picture that needs to have the color changed drastically. Be careful not to select any part of the image that you don't want to change.

How Much Change Is Okay?

Editing a picture to improve the composition is entirely reasonable, if it's a picture for your own use, but this is precisely what got the esteemed National Geographic magazine in trouble some years ago. They were doing a piece on Egypt and sent a photographer to get pictures of the pyramids. The art director studied the pictures and decided the composition would be better if he moved one of the pyramids closer to the next. As soon as the issue was published, astute readers began calling and writing to the magazine to complain. An apology appeared in the following issue, but simply knowing that the manipulation was possible waved a red flag for many people both inside and outside the publishing industry. The question has been debated ever since. How much change is okay? How much is too much?

It's clear that you can't always believe what you see. The supermarket tabloids frequently feature pictures that stretch the bounds of believability. Remember the one of the President shaking hands with the space alien? Or Bigfoot carrying off the scantily clad woman? (Why was she dressed like that in the snow anyway?) On the other hand, if a model is having a bad hair day or her face breaks out, retouching is required and expected. Where do you draw the line?

The answer depends on how the picture is to be used. Reputable newspapers and magazines tend to have strict guidelines about what they'll allow for photo manipulation. The general rule seems to be that, if a change affects the content of the photo rather than its appearance, you can't do it. You can lighten a too-dark picture of the politician, but you can't change the soda can in his hand into a beer can (or vice versa).

Drag-and-Drop Repairs

Some photos are almost perfect, except for one annoying flaw. Maybe it's power lines running through the sky, or as in this example, a misplaced outdoor grill (see Figure 22.7). Because the area directly next it is essentially the same at the rest of the foreground, I can get rid of the box by simply lassoing a piece of grass, pond, and branches and dragging it to cover the offending object. This technique also works well when you have things like power lines or cell phone antennae sticking into the sky.

Figure 22.7 The outdoor cooker adds nothing to the composition, so we'll take it away.

To Do: Use the Lasso Tool to Retouch a Photo

To use the Lasso for this purpose:

  1. Select the Lasso Tool from the toolbar. Open the Feather dialog box (Select→Feather) and set the Feather radius to somewhere between 3 to 6 pixels. This will help the copied sand blend in.

  2. Select a piece of the picture by circling it with the Lasso.

  3. With the selection marquee active, choose the Move Tool (Press V) and press Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) as you drag the selection. (See a close view of this in Figure 22.8.)

  4. Figure 22.8 Be sure to cover all of the area.

  5. Repeat as needed, selecting different pieces of the picture to drag over whatever you need to cover. You can also use this trick to hide any other parts of the picture that you don't want.

  6. Press Command+D (Mac) or Control+D (Windows) when you're finished dragging and copying to deselect the selection. Figure 22.9 shows the cleaned-up picture.

  7. Figure 22.9 No more ugly junk in the picture.

Editing a Picture

There are times when you have to remove more than a scratch or a small imperfection from a photo. Sometimes you have to take out larger objects to save a potentially good picture. Figure 22.10 shows just such a photo, a picture I shot several years ago when Boston had a Tall Ships regatta. I think the boys on the bowsprit would show up better if there were fewer boats behind/under them. I also hope to remove the yacht that's about to run into the ship's side.

Figure 22.10 Many things in here need to come out.

To Do: Remove Unwanted Items

  1. I've already cropped the photo and straightened the horizon, something I almost always have to do with boat pictures. Let's start with the cabin cruiser. I tried the Healing Brush first, to remove that radio antenna. Not a good choice. It also removed the wood trim on the ship's hull. Instead, I'll copy and paste a strip from farther down the side (see Figure 22.11). I can use the same technique to pull out outer pieces of ship and water to cover the smaller boat completely. After I select a piece, I first copy it, and then immediately paste it. When I paste, the piece is on a different layer. Then I press V to turn the cursor into the Move Tool, and slide the piece into place. If I can use it more than once, I press Option and drag a copy of the piece to another spot.

  2. Figure 22.11 Be careful to align the copied planks with the originals.

  3. Dealing with all these pasted layers can get confusing. If you get a message that says, "Could not complete the Copy command because the selected layer is empty," it simply means that you need to select the Background layer, or whatever layer the ship is on (see Figure 22.12). The solution is to flatten layers you're done working with.

  4. Figure 22.12 Oops. I'm trying to copy from Layer 3, and there's nothing on it.

  5. There are too many boats in the cluster under the ship's bow. Using the same techniques, I can pull out a few of them with no trouble at all.

  6. Figure 22.13 On the left, before; right, after thinning out the fleet.

  7. Now is a good time to do any last-minute color adjustments. I tweaked the saturation up a small amount, and applied the Despeckle filter to remove the dust that had been on the scanner glass. Figure 22.14 and the color plate section show the final photo, ready to go up on the wall.

  8. Figure 22.14 Sometimes, less is better.

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