Restoring photographs: Part 2

Last time, this column covered the basics of getting started with image restoration. By now, your image should be scanned, rotated and ready for finer adjustments. Using most types of filters will make changes that are hard to reverse, so sharpen, blur and other related tools should be left to the final stages (and next month's column).


There can be several reasons that colour adjustments need to be made to a photograph. First, if your image is not properly scanned then you may need a graphics program to fix it (you should try to match the scan to the original as closely as possible, as additional problems introduced by a scanner may be difficult to remove).

Your image may also have colour problems as a result of poor film processing and developing, exposure of the film to heat (common when cameras and film are left in the car a hot day) or artefacts from ageing such as 'brown and whites' or yellow/red tints from exposure to the sun.

There are many different ways to adjust the colour balance in a picture. In Paint Shop Pro, head to the Colours-Adjust menu. Here you will find a range of tools for fine-tuning colours in the picture. Start with Colours-Adjust-Colour Balance. Click the midtones at the bottom and adjust the sliders left and right. Your original is displayed on the left while a preview of the effects will appear in the right window. The small magnification tools in the middle can be used for zooming in and out. Repeat the adjustments for the Highlights and Shadows options. You can also try the Colours-Histogram Functions-Histogram Adjustment feature - this is a little confusing, so you will need to refer to the Help file to make progress.

In contrast, Photoshop has a far simpler levels/histogram tool that can be used to produce quick improvements. By selecting Image-Adjust-Levels, you can call up the histogram. Try the auto button first; this can be unpredictable, so you will need to consider adjusting the sliders manually if the 'auto' results are not what you want.

For manual adjustment, examine each channel and see if there are any obvious places to start (such as too much red). Otherwise, work systematically through all three channels and start with the centre pointer. Slide it left and then right to see if it is improving the colour. Remember that the channels work together to generate the image's colour, so you may need to switch between the channels several times to get the right mix. Alternatively, try Image-Adjust-Color Balance.


Many over-exposed or washed-out photos can be fixed with a quick histogram adjustment. These images are often characterised by large gaps at either edge of the histogram. To correct this problem open the Levels window and move the outside pointers towards the centre until they lie just underneath the edge of the histogram. After adjusting these pointers, the image may become a little darker or too light, so correct this problem by moving the centre pointer until the image is how you want it.

In some cases, the colour may be so deteriorated that the best option is to convert the image to black and white (also called Grey Scale). To convert colour images, simply open the file and select Colours-Grey Scale (Paint Shop Pro). In Photoshop, select Image-Mode-Gray Scale.

Once the colour balance is fixed, tweak the contrast and brightness settings. The image should be well on the "way to looking better than the original.


Some programs have features such as scratch-removal and despeckle tools. These can work wonders and provide a quick short-cut, but they can also have side-effects such as blurring the image or removing other features that your wish to keep. This is where the clone brush (Paint Shop Pro) or stamping tool (Photoshop) can be of great assistance. With a stamping tool, you select a part of an image that you want to sample and then paint that sampled area to another part of the image. Rather than paint a single colour, it copies the pixels as they are laid out in the sampled area. More importantly, the sampled area also moves relative to the starting point. This enables the stamper to become a sophisticated pasting tool and an even more powerful eraser. By copying other sections of the image, you maintain many of the lighting and texture effects. Depending on the image, you can remove scratches, dots and shadows, or you can repair tears or crinkles in the image.

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Scott Mendham

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