Degradation of old prints
February 23, 2007 1:42 PM   Subscribe

I just scanned in some 1970s-1980s family pictures (on print paper). Some of the colors seem washed out. Is there an easy way to improve the colors a bit?

With some pictures (notably the ones using Fujifilm in the late 1980s) it seems there's a slight lean to the blue side of the spectrum, and with others (like older 110 prints) the blues are weak and the saturation is low. I think the colors were never all that good to begin with back in the 1980s, but they definitely appear to have shifted since then.

I tried playing with hue controls but all I get is psychedelic or technicolor looks.

Is there any easy way to make my pictures more lifelike again? I'm guessing that as the paper degrades, the spectrum falls off or shifts according to some sort of semi-predictable curve and it would be easy to compensate for this. I use an ancient PaintShop program but have access to PhotoShop 7.

Also are there any resources that talk about how the spectrum of various prints degrade over time?
posted by hodyoaten to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Photoshop's AutoColor stands a good chance of pulling them back to some sort of normality. You can do it manually, but for bulk Auto Color/Auto Contrast and Fade if they've gone "too far the other way" is pretty simple.
posted by Leon at 1:49 PM on February 23, 2007

If you work in Photoshop you'll find you have much better control over hue than the chunky controls you've been using. In fact, for the most part, the Curves dialog box has an "Auto" feature that can get beginners 90% of the way there.

My favorite book for learning about photo correction is Real World Photoshop--you should be able to find an old copy for PS 7 without too much trouble. The book goes into pretty good detail about how to correct color for various issues although it's not as specific as you seem to be looking for. I don't know that there's a general book discussing degradation for particular stocks--the conditions things are stored in are SO variable it would be basically impossible. Learning how to use the existing color correction tools will be more valuable to you, I think. Best of luck!
posted by bcwinters at 1:49 PM on February 23, 2007

In Curves you can use the middle "grey balance" eyedropper to adjust the ovall cast of an image. Just click on an area in the image that's presumed to be a fairly neutral grey.
You can also use Hue and Saturation to adjust specific colors. Select the color you like to adjust from the popup. You can then define the exact constraints of the color your adjusting on the color gradient bar at the bottom of the window (notice the arrows only appear after you have selected a color).
posted by doctor_negative at 2:23 PM on February 23, 2007

You could contact some of the wizards who hang out in Flickr's FIX MY PIC group for tips. Example of someone doing what you're talking about: before, after.
posted by Partial Law at 2:35 PM on February 23, 2007

Auto Color in Photoshop 7 should work fine. If you're using an older version, you'll also get decent results (usually) with Auto Levels (or adjusting levels manually).
posted by neckro23 at 3:05 PM on February 23, 2007

Open your file in Photoshop and make sure to edit the color and contrast with Adjustment Layers. These are handy because you can edit them later, and your original image will stay preserved. Adjustment Layers are created with the semi-circle icon in your Layers palette. Click that and select an adjustment type. Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation and Channel Mixer all should help you out. With 'Levels', try hitting 'Auto' to start. With 'Curves', move the plotted points on the line so they form an S shape. Play with the contrast until it looks right.

Also, this method is good for reducing noise, and this is good for variable sharpening.
posted by deern the headlice at 3:14 PM on February 23, 2007

If you want more control than "Auto Color" but still quick and easy, open each file in Photoshop. From the top menu, choose Image > Adjustments > Color Balance. Ignore the text input fields, and play with the sliders. Note that you're adjusting the midtones by default; switch to highlights and shadows as needed.

If you need to adjust the contrast too, do that first. Image > Adjustments > Levels. Ignore the channels and the input fields again, and pull the top set of black and white sliders (the set with the gray slider in the middle) closer together until you're where you want to be.

Always save a copy of the original scans, of course.
posted by nadise at 3:27 PM on February 23, 2007

If you don't have a copy of photoshop, Picasa2 has some basic photo editing functions, and it's free.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:42 PM on February 23, 2007

Two very good links:
Popular Photography


Ctein's book Digital Restoration - from start to finish
posted by KimG at 5:16 PM on February 23, 2007

« Older where in Flint?   |   suggestions for hotels in Amsterdam? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.