Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey

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Preserving the Past for the Future, Part 2

Gram-scanI promised to go over two pictures in the last post, and therefore this post will be Part 2 and I will be writing about restoring a black and white photo.  Taking the same scan from the last post, I chose a picture of my grandmother when she was much younger, and I would guess that the picture is probably from the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.

You would follow the steps in regards to scanning at a high-resolution, straightening and cropping the photo you want to work with and then saving as another file name. You can see that not only has the photo faded, but also there are some major scratches..

My first step is to copy the background layer (leaving the original layer intact).  I initially tried to do a dust and scratches on this photo, but felt I lost too much detail in the face, since one of the scratches goes across my grandmother’s face.  Therefore, I worked mainly with the clone stamp tool to fix the scratches.  I chose this because the healing tool is too indiscriminate when filling in the lost data, and with a face, and because the original paper had a textured background, I need to use more care to make sure the repairs look natural.  I work at the most significant scratches first – my view, while working, will vary from about 400% to 800% magnification.

B4andAfterThe clone stamp tool is set to 100% opacity, although you can change this, but I usually work with a fairly small brush with hardness set to “0: and rather than just setting the source alignment and painting, I will keep on re-sampling my source again and again (with each click) to create a more natural repair and also to make sure I am matching the skin tones, since shadows and light affect the various planes of the face.  I can sample less, when I’m repairing the roof, say, but still you want to make sure the repairs are subtle.  I also often change my brush size and overlap the areas, again to prevent any obvious patterning from the repair work.

When you zoom out, you will see what I’m saying if you experiment a bit. I also vary the size of my brush on the fly. (Mac users, you use the open parentheses to change your brush to a smaller size and the close parentheses for the opposite. Windows users, check your Photoshop to see what the keystrokes are for this.) Also by clicking the “eye” of the current layer you’re working on, you will be able to check your progress.  You will see the obvious improvement in the before and after photo to the left.

Now that the most important scratches have been taken care of, I start at one corner of the photo and working at about 125%-150%, I work my way across to the right, scroll down, work to the left and so on until I’ve covered the entire photo, working on cleaning up the scratches or other marks I find along the way.

Next I add an adjustment layer – in this case levels and adjust it as follows:


I still feel the face or upper portion of the photograph has faded and lost more detail than the lower part.  The face seems washed out to me. Therefore, I decide to copy my 2nd layer (post scratches) and change the layer effects to Multiply but take the opacity of the layer down to 30%.

However, I don’t want to apply this darkening effect to the whole photography, so I also add a layer mask.  In doing this, I can mainly apply the changes of this layer primarily to the face and house roof behind my grandmother.


On the layer mask (make sure mask is selected – see Part 1) I first add a gradient, and then to clean up some of the picture border and sky area, I use a low opacity black brush to hide some of the multiply effects. I then used a blur tool to blend in the changes at the top of the layer mask. Also I have the mask set to a 5px feather.

See the results to the right:

I next applied a cyan photo filter layer to tone down some of the yellow from the aging.  I don’t want a pure black and white image.  I quite like the sepia tone on this photo.  The photo filter is at a density of 15%, and you can play around with the filters to suit your own tastes.



If you want a pure black and white, you can add another adjustment layer and this would be the result, after fiddling with some of the black and white settings.

To add a note to the prior post about color restoration, I wanted to point out that if you add a photo filter because you’re bringing back yellow or red to a photograph, you may find it changes the color in areas of the photo you don’t want changed.  This happened to me when restoring a photo of my parents – when adding yellow to warm up the skin tones that looked dead, a blue shirt turned to a muddy green color. I used a layer mask to mask out the effects of the photo filter’s change, so the shirt remained blue.

I hope this is helpful.  I know these photos are rather small, but hopefully if you click on them you will be able to see the changes more clearly.  As stated in the previous posts, there are always multiple paths to get to your desired results in Photoshop.  You can play with a saturation level, or curves.  I didn’t use curves here, because I felt the top portion of the photo was too light.  You can start with an auto contrast or using the white balance tool.  Again, I didn’t use here because I wanted to keep the sepia tone.  The thing with Photoshop is not to be afraid to experiment.  That’s why it is important to save the original scanned file as another named file and also to use layers.  You want to be able to experiment.  That’s how you learn!  And you have the “undo” and the history window which give you further leeway to make mistakes without getting too frustrated or having to start over from the beginning.

Happy Restoration and Happy Experimenting!  Next time, back to current photos I’m working on and more musings!

Please visit me at Etsy: RadianceCardsPhotos or Belinda Greb at Fine Art America. Thanks for visiting.