PI5 Restoring Old Photos

PI 5.0 has some handy features for fixing up discolored photos, and for restoring detail and contrast to damaged old photos. This tutorial shows you how to use the Tone Map and Color Balance commands on different color channels to correct discoloration in the 1956 photo shown below.

From this...

1956 photo before

to this!

1956 photo after

Then we'll use the new Remove Scratches Retouch tool, along with several other techniques, to restore a 76 year old photo.

My family moved to Miami when I was a toddler. One of our favorite places to go was to the Crandon Park Beach zoo. The zoo is no longer there, but I have always loved this picture of my mom and baby brother, me (in front of mom) and my little sister, taken by the flamingo pool.

1958 photo

Unfortunately, this 41 year old photo has turned an ugly red-orange color over the years. Aging and the Florida humidity have taken their toll on its colors. Use this image to follow the steps I used to restore natural color to this photo, then you'll be able to use these techniques on your own photos.

The first step in correcting this image is to reduce the amount of red in it. Choose Format, Tone Map.

When the dialog box opens, click on the Map tab. Select the Red channel from the Channel dropdown list, and check "Accumulatively" to apply a series of corrections we'll apply to the image. You'll see a separate color-coded line in the histogram for each channel edited.

Click on the Enhancement button and choose Darken Midtones.

It may seem counter-intuitive to darken the midtones in the red channel, but as you can see in the preview window shown above, doing so remaps those "in between" colors that bring up detail, and they tend to cancel out a good bit of the red in the photo. Suddenly you can see the green a lot better.

Choose the Green channel and click on the Enhancement button. This time select Use Complete Range.

editing the green channel

This option redistributes the colors in the photo to take advantage of the full range of colors available in the green channel. Thus, yellow-greens and other lighter shades appear to brighten the photo. However, now it is too yellow looking.

Select the Blue channel from the dropdown list. Once again, click on the Enhancement button and choose Use Complete Range. The yellow cast to the sky and other lighter parts of the image seem to clear right up with this command, creating a more natural looking landscape.

Now we have one more step to do in the Tone Map box to lighten the somewhat dark look of the photo. Select the Master channel from the dropdown list to apply the next command to the entire range of colors.

Click on the Enhancement button and choose Lighten. Click OK to close the Tone Map dialog box.

editing the Master channel

Because the photo still has a faint pink cast to it, choose Format, Color Balance. When the dialog box opens, click on the Preset tab. A thumbnail in the center (highlighted) represents the photo's current color distribution. As you can see below, you can choose from thumbnails redistributing the colors with an emphasis on blues and greens in the top row, moving to an emphasis on reds and purples in the bottom row. Select the thumbnail immediately to the left of the center, highlighted thumbnail (arrow), and click OK.

color balance adds blue tones

I took a critical look at the neutral colors in the photo (black, white and grays) and decided that the white needed to be whiter. Choose Format, Color Balance again. When the dialog box opens, click on the Smart tab. From the Smart tab, you can select a color to correct and a replacement color. Position the cursor over the preview window and it turns into an Eyedropper.

Click in the light part of the girl's white sweatshirt (arrow). That color appears in the Corrected color box.

correcting color

Click in the Desired color box and choose white from the color picker. Click OK. Pure white replaces the pale gray.

The contrast in this photo needs improving. However, when I used the Brightness & Contrast command, even the mildest setting was overpowering. I tried the Focus and Sharpen/Unsharp Mask commands to try to bring up detail in my mom's face, but the results were not good. Instead, to bring up contrast I used one of my favorite tricks for gently deepening color and contrast. Choose Format, Style to open the Style dialog box. Click on the Light tab and select the Shadow option, then click OK.

applying shadow style filter

I think the subtle lights and shadows added by the Style filter added a needed finishing touch. The results of the image editing are shown below. It's almost a miracle! When I printed this out on photo quality paper with my good color printer, it looked like a new photograph.

finished photo

Next we'll tackle a very old photo taken of my dad and uncle (below right and left, respectively) when they were little boys. The photo was actually in pretty good condition, considering that it's 76 years old and had been folded, but the boys' faces were blotchy looking and the outer edges had faded into nothing. I cropped the outer edges to preserve the central focus on the two children.

76 year old photo before

Choose the Zoom tool and click once on the image to magnify to 200%. As you can see at left, there's a couple of pale, blotchy areas on the bigger boy's face, and the smaller boy's cheek. Also, there's a dark line on the smaller boy's upper lip. The eyes and mouths have faded somewhat and need to be darkened.

blotches on faces

The first thing we'll do is get rid of the facial blotches. This photo is too small to use the Clone-Paint Brush tool effectively. Instead, select the Eyedropper tool. Use it to click in the skin tones near each white spot on the children's faces, to make the skin color next to the spot the foreground color. Then select the Paint Brush tool. In the Attributes toolbar, set the brush shape to round, size 5 pixels, soft edge=2, transparency=75. Carefully paint with this "diluted" paint over the white spots. For example, the big boy's cheek and nose have large white spots, and the area under the small boy's right eye and the end of his nose have spots. Paint out the vertical black line marring the small boy's mouth. Don't overdo it or you'll lose facial detail.  Return to View, Actual View occasionally to make sure everything looks good.

After you get rid of the spots, use the Eyedropper again to select the dark brown color of the children's mouths and eyes. Select the Paint Brush again. Leave the settings as before, but make the brush size 2 pixels and soft edge=1. While Zoomed In to 200%, reinforce the outer corners of the children's eyes and mouths.

There are some dark blotches along the side of the big boy's face, and around the small boy's mouth. From the Retouch tools, select the Remove Scratch tool. In the Attributes toolbar, leave the Preset at None, brush size 5, soft edge=2, as the presets are too powerful for this small a photo. Zoom In to 200%.

Experiment by lightly clicking on the darker areas, and to blend the areas where you've painted out blotches. Feel free to change the brush size and soft edge as needed. If you make a mistake, right click and Undo, and try again. Don't smooth out every dark or light spot, however, or you'll lose the face altogether.

The results of my editing are shown below, at 200% magnification.

after painting and scratch removal

Before we go any further in editing, it's important to remember that these children's clothing was handmade of coarse, natural fabrics.  Lots of wrinkling was normal in those days. When we look at the photo for problem areas, we have to be careful not to smooth or paint out naturally occurring folds, creases, or their shadows. When in doubt, check it out in Actual Size to make sure the clothing isn't too smooth or flat looking compared to the rest of the photo. Right click and Undo if an edit really isn't warranted.

The left pants leg of the big boy has a white splotchy look from the photo being bent (arrow). Choose the Clone Paint Brush tool to get rid of it. In the Attributes toolbar, set the brush to round, size=10, soft edge=5.

detail on pants leg

Hold down the Shift key while clicking in the darker area just to the left of the white blotch on the pants. Doing so clones that area. Now paint over the white part, a little at a time, with the cloned part.

cloned out white part

There are a couple of dark spotty areas on the small boy's socks that need to be removed, and a sharp edge of white along the big boy's left pants leg hem. Again, we'll avoid retouching the natural clothing folds or shadows, focusing only on the blotchy areas resulting from aging and wrinkling of the photo. Choose the Clone-Remove Scratch tool. In the Attributes toolbar, leave the Preset to None, and set the brush to round, size 5, soft edge=2. Click lightly to blur the blotchy areas, reducing the harsh contrasts.

Now that we have retouched all the flaws in the photo, we need to redistribute the shades of brown to bring up detail. There are plenty of lights and darks in this photo, but the midtones are not all they could be.

Choose Format, Tone Map. Initially I tried using the preset Enhancements from the Map tab, but the changes made to the photo were too strong. Therefore, we'll tweak the midtones from the Highlight Midtone Shadow tab.  Be sure to select Master from the Channel dropdown list.

Start with the Midtone setting. Positive numbers make the colors lighter, while negative numbers make them darker. I clicked the down arrow until I got to -10, watching the change in midtone color in the Preview window as I clicked. This was the best setting for the photo.

format tone map for midtones

To bring up the contrast a bit, edit the Shadow setting first. It only took a few clicks, up to 3, to yield a level of darks that looked good. Finally, edit the Highlight setting. Be careful with the Highlights, because too high a level will create an unattractive, posterized look. In this case, a setting of 5 looks good, adding a nice balance of lights with the darks in the photo. Click OK to close the Tone Map box.

This image could have been converted to Grayscale, but I liked the warm, sepia tones, so I left them as they were. The edited photo is shown below:

photo after retouching and tone map

To add a little more polish to the photo, make an elliptical selection of the children. For a simple vignette image, right click on the selection and choose Soften. When the Soften box opens, soften by 10 pixels. Copy the softened selection into the Clipboard, then choose Edit, Paste, As a New Image. When the new image opens in its own window in the work space, right click and Merge All.

softened vignette of old photo

Alternatively, make an elliptical selection, but don't soften the edges. Instead, copy the elliptical selection into the Clipboard, then choose Edit, Paste, As a New Image. When the new image opens in its own window in the work space, choose Edit, Expand to add a little space around it. When the Expand box opens, expand by 25 pixels on all sides, canvas=white, and click OK. Now choose Web, Frame Designer and selection a frame for the image. Shown below, I chose a Magic frame with an Embossed frame, one color, a brown from the photo itself, to maintain the old-fashioned monochromatic look.

framed old photo

Now that you've learned how to use Tone Maps, Color Balance, and the Retouch tools for restoration, you'll probably want to try these techniques on some of your own old pictures. Your efforts may involve a bit of trial and error as you learn which commands work best for a particular image, but the sense of satisfaction you'll get from restoring your treasured old photos will be worth the effort.

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