Restoring photographs: Part 3

This final instalment will show you how to finish off photo restoration and bring more life to an image. By now, your photo should have been scanned and rotated, with its colour balance restored and all obvious markings removed.

Warning: the techniques shown below are irreversible and should be applied at the end of the restoration process. It is a good idea to save a separate copy before trying these tools for the first time.

BLURRED IMAGES

A cheap camera or shaky hand can introduce blurring to a photograph, which becomes more noticeable if you attempt to zoom or crop part of an image. If your picture is large, then you can try shrinking it to remove the blurring. This can have mixed results, but it can be quite effective in combination with filters. Simply apply a sharpen filter (see below) and shrink the image - most times, you will see a substantial improvement.

One important point to keep in mind is that filters often work at the pixel level. If you have a large image, some effects may not seem to make any difference, while smaller images may get swamped. A similar problem can occur when the number of colours is small. Try to work with images that are 24-bit colour or higher. If you are using only 256 colours (8-bit), such as a GIF, then consider increasing it to 24-bit before applying filters.

The Sharpen and Sharpen More filters increase the contrast between adjacent pixels, giving the appearance of stronger lines. Sometimes the result is sharper but the image can then appear grainy or speckled (reducing the size of the image can reverse this side effect).

The king of sharpening filters sounds like it would do the opposite - it's called the Unsharp Mask. The filter follows the same basic principle as Sharpen, except that it doesn't apply the filter indiscriminately. Instead, it locates pixels where the contrast differs from surrounding pixels by a certain amount, and then increases these pixels' contrast. Most programs allow you to set the contrast levels and the size of the surrounding area. The results can be dramatic, with few trade-offs.

GRAINY IMAGES

Some photographs are enhanced by a grainy appearance, but most times the owner will want the effect removed or reduced. This can be a tricky process, requiring trial and error. The first step is to slightly blur the image with the aptly-named blur filter, to smooth out the image. The next step involves shrinking the image by about half and then experimenting with Unsharp Mask. If your image is too small, rescan it at a higher resolution.

CROPPING AND TRIMMING

After completing all the other adjustments, the last stage is framing the image. You may want to eliminate a background object, centre the subject of the photograph or zoom in. This is where a trimming/cropping tool is needed.

Trimming can be a tricky operation. It involves selecting a start point, dragging the mouse to fill out the desired area and then releasing the button. Most programs will then require you to click another button to perform the actual trim operation. This process may seem straightforward, but selecting the exact area you want may take many attempts, and even then it may still be a few pixels out of kilter.

Paint Shop Pro allows you to type in the exact height and width of the area you want to crop. Select the crop tool and then go to the Tool-Options floating menu. Click Crop Settings, then manually enter the pixel values. When you click the OK button, a box will show you where the trim will be applied. If you are happy with the selection, click on the Crop Image button in the floating window.

In Photoshop, the cropping tool is found near the top left corner of the tools palette. After selecting the target area, you can make additional adjustments by dragging out the corners, moving or rotating the entire selection. Once you are satisfied, hit on your keyboard and the image will be trimmed. If you don't like the result, use the undo command and try again.

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