(I was asked if I could make this post “rebloggable” …so I did. Enjoy!)
When working with old photos that have faded and discolored, being able to read a histogram can come in handy. Here is an old photo that had become red and faded.
If you go into Image > Adjustments > Levels you will see a histogram that looks like this.
The left side indicates the blacks. The middle indicates the grays. The right indicates the whites. Now this histogram looks somewhat normal. The black slider should be near the edge of the first peak. The white slider should be near the edge of the last peak. But for some reason this photo doesn’t look right. Therefore we must go deeper.
In the channel menu you have the choice of viewing the levels of all colors (RGB) or individual colors. Red, green, and blue. Let’s see what is going on in the red level histogram.
As you can see, the black slider is very far away from the edge of the first peak. That is what is causing such a dramatic red shift in the picture. So, we need to move the black slider to the edge of that peak and that should take care of most of the issue.
And then the picture looks like this.
Let’s look at the blue.
Here you can see that the white slider is far from the edge of the last peak. Move that towards the peak and the whites will lose their blue tint.
And the green.
Both the black and the white sliders need to be adjusted.
Finally, you should go back to the RGB channel and make your final adjustments. This is all a matter of taste. Do you like your images to have a heavy contrast? Move the black and white sliders in to your liking. Keep in mind that the further in you go, the more detail you lose. That’s where the middle slider… the gray slider… can come in handy. By moving it one way or another you can bring detail back into the picture. Remember that at this point these should all be minor adjustments.
When you are done, just by changing the levels, you have really made a dramatic improvement on your image.
Some other tips…
If your image is a bit blurry, try Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. This can bring back some detail, but it can also cause noise. Try to find a spot in between.
Are there any small imperfections in the scan? Maybe a tear, a dust speck, or a fingerprint? Maybe you had a giant zit or blemish. Try the healing brush tool. Make the brush size slightly larger than the area you wish to fix, click once, and most of the time it will just disappear.
Those are the best tips I can think of late on a Friday night. I hope they helped.