Friday, 7 August 2015

Restoring old Photographs - The Big Project!

The title says it all; I have been working on a big project!

Recently, my Mother moved into an aged care facility.  She still enjoys good health but the family house that she had lived in for the past 50 years was getting a little too much for her.

Things were sorted, thrown out, filed etc.  Because I am the photographer in the family, I was given care of the family photos to scan so that everyone could get copies.  

Now, my father was a prolific photographer!  Thank God for that!  So many photos of us all through the different stages of our lives; more precious than jewels!  Not only that, but photos of dad & mum in their youth, relatives long passed and, so much immediate and extended family history.

The majority of the photos are 'proofs'; printed without enlargement from medium format film.  Dad always shot in 6 x 9 aspect ratio (6cm x 9cm).  Some of the older photographs had been enlarged.

I have a Canon Pixma MX870 scanner/printer and I used the standard Canon software that came with the machine.  For most photos I scanned at 1200 dpi dropping down to 600 dpi depending on the file size indicated.  At first I had turned on the 'dust & scratches' option when scanning but then I disabled it. To get rid of light dust and scratch marks, the software manipulates the pixels and fills in the voids using the values of pixels found close by.  This results in a general blurring of the photo and, because the scanning process is only the start of the restoration process, it leaves the photo slightly blurred from then on.  Removal of dust and scratches is best performed on the file, after scanning, in Photoshop.

I also enabled Unsharp Mask on the scanner software, which gave a better result than not using it ( a LOT of trial and error at the start of this project!)

Once the photos were scanned I saved them to a 'Scanned' folder on my hard drive.  From there I opened the file in Photoshop Elements 11 for some further work.

A lot of the smaller photos did not require too much Photoshop work at all, except for applying the Spot Healing Brush for those small dust spots.  This brush takes the value of the surrounding pixels and applies them over the small spot, in effect, 'colouring in' the spot to make it un-noticeable.

In the event that a photo had an area larger than a small spot or, needed correction on an identifiable part of the photo (e.g. a spot breaking a 'line' of a darker tone or the area of a defined pattern that needed replacing) I used the Clone Stamp Tool.  This tool basically copies part of the photo.   Alt-Clicking on a defined source point, the Clone Stamp Tool will copy the information of those pixels so it can be pasted elsewhere in the  photo.  

On some of the photos (as you will see), the background was covered, not only by dust and scratch marks but some type of 'fungus' (which is probably a break down of the chemical on the photo paper over the years or a reaction to humidity) or the emulsion had been partially taken off the surface of the photo paper entirely, removing the detail.  There were also stains caused by insect droppings from those little buggers who had crawled in over the years!

On the less damaged photos, I was able to repair this using the Clone Stamp Tool.  Where this damage had occurred in large areas of a photo, such as the backdrop where there was no discernable details, I used the Eyedropper (more correctly described as the Colour Picker Tool) to record the colour of the background.  Once I had chosen that colour, I then used the Brush Tool to clean up all of those marks.  This was a time saver because, when it occurred in a larger proportion of the photo I was able to make the size of the brush larger and complete the repair much quicker.  When using the Colour Picker Tool, I set the Opacity level at about half so that the photo retained some of the original tonality and texture from the photo paper to give it the more authentic vintage look.

In some areas, the 'fungus', insect stain and, lack of emulsion left little or no detail.  I decided to only do a minimal cleanup on those areas, especially when it occurred on white clothes.  Performing a thorough clean in that circumstance would have left a white void on the photo with no detail.  It would have seemed like a pair of scissors had been taken to the photo and cut out that shape; as you will see in an example I have attached here.

Upon opening the file in Photoshop, I created a duplicate layer to work off and then created a layer mask.  Think of the layer mask as an invisible layer hovering over the photo.  I applied the Dust and Scratches filter to the duplicate layer.  As I have said, this made the image slightly blurred but it did the trick; the majority of the dust and scratches disappeared.  To re-sharpen up areas like faces and other detail, I then used the Brush Tool.  The Brush Tool removed that part of the Layer Mask that it was applied to and revealed the original part of the photo underneath.  The only problem now is that all of the dust and scratches removed earlier were now showing again but, as it was only small portions of the photo revealed, it was easier to clean up using the Healing Brush or Clone Tool.  Once this was completed I merged all layers.

As part of the process, I would convert all faded monochrome photos to Black and White to see how they may have looked when originally printed.  For colour photos I would use the Auto Colour Correction.  If the photo looked better after this then I kept it like that, otherwise I would revert it to its' faded condition to look authentically vintage.

I'm the first to admit that there are ways I could probably speed up this process; create a batch process for multiple photos etc but, each photo has been different, and required different processes.  I am about 3/4 through this project at the moment. 

A couple of things I have learned though.  If you have an old photo that is blurred and out of focus, you cannot make it sharp and in focus!  You may be able to clean up a photo but focus and movement in a photo cannot be adjusted!    Also, if you have old photos that represent your family history, write on the back of them!  I've mostly been ok with these photos, recognising people and places but, every now and then one pops up and I wish I knew at least where it had been taken!

All photos on this blog and on my corresponding Google + account are © Life with Jordy Photography and may not be used without permission


Before             &            After     
The area at the back of these ladies had no detail so it was easily cleaned up using the Eyedropper (Colour Picker Tool) and the Brush Tool.  This also worked very well to clear up the skin of their faces.  If you look closely at their clothes, there are small black marks all over them.  Cleaning those up was very time consuming!  A little Dodge & Burn to highlight shadows.  This particular photo took me 2 1/2 hours to restore.

So happy to say this one only required use of the Healing Brush Tool! This one is in amazing condition considering that this photo is 89 years old!

      Before             &            After     
Knowing the birth dates of these 2 girls (my great aunts Jane & Teresa) I estimate the age of this photo to be circa 1870.  Minimal dust and scratches removed and dodge and burn to highlight shadow.  An example of white clothes that have lost some of the detail.  To do a 100% clean up of marks on the clothes would have made it look like I had cut out the clothes leaving a white underlay.


Before             &            After      
I decided to leave this photo in its' faded sepia look.  I think that sometimes it adds to the authenticity of a vintage photo.  I used the Eyedropper tool to select colour and the Brush Tool to clean up the area outside of the oval and also on the inside around his image.  To do a finer cleanup on face and clothes I used the Healing Brush too and Clone Tool.


   Before             &            After    
Very happy with the restoration of this photo!   That is my mum on the right.  She is photographed with her sister Eileen Margaret.  Taken in 1931, Eileen passed away when she was 9 months old.  Sometimes, and I feel that it is so with this photo, converting to black & white has given better detail and contrast then leaving the photo in the faded sepia.

As I said in the narrative above.  You can't sharpen a photo that is blurred because it is out of focus or because movement has occurred.  I was so happy to see that this photo was as sharp as ever!  It  only required restoration the Healing Brush but still took me an hour and a half to clean it up!


Before             &            After
Here you can see the point I am making above about taking out the stains & smudges on white clothes.  My Grandmother is 2nd from the left wearing a coloured dress.  The detail in the dress has remained (the tone of the colour and the shadows from the fall of the pleats in the dress) whereas the lighter coloured clothes have not retained much detail at all.  I think if I were to clean up the white clothing at 100%, then it would look like I had cut out their clothes with scissors to show a white background.  In this instance, I placed more importance on spots and scratches and improving the detail of their faces.

This has got to be one of my favourite photos!  It is my father.  Taken in 1936 when he was 20 years old and was a projectionist at the Lyric Theatre in Tenterfield, NSW, Australia.  I had never seen this photo before until about 6 weeks ago when I started scanning the photos!  I took out a lot of dust spots on this but left some scratches to add a little authenticity to a photo that has been around for nearly 90 years now.

Here is another of my favourites!  Mum in her nurses uniform.  This photo was in great condition but the colour had faded and was looking very dour.  I used the Auto Colour Correction tool in Photoshop to correct this and it has done a good job!  You may think that the colour in this photo still looks a bit odd.  In the days when this photo was taken, colour photos were difficult to develop and process.  To bring out the colour in the final print, most studios employed an artist to hand paint the final product.

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