Old Photo Restoration in Photoshop [Duel]

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Photo restoration is one of the most challenging and fun projects to work on in Photoshop.  We started this project with a very old photo of Jim's grandparents since his family enjoys researching their family history.  The photo was taken in the 1940s, giving the print plenty of time to fade and decay.  The photo was scanned and digitized, but it still needed a little Photoshop love to restore the photo.

Jim and Dustin each started with the same scanned photo and then each gave their own spin on the restoration.

New to the weekly Improve Photography Duel?  Check out this page, where we explain how it works.  A new camera duel will be released each Monday, and we're asking YOU to vote on the photos below.

Old Photo Restoration in Photoshop

Jim Here:  I decided to not only restore the black and white, but also to colorize the photo.  OBVIOUSLY, you wouldn't want to colorize all old photos.  Sometimes just removing the defects in the photo such as tears and fading is all the restoration you would want to do.  However, I decided that with this particular photo, I wanted to add just a little color to make the photo come to life a bit.  I saved out both a black and white as well as a colorized version to keep.

Jim's Process:  Before doing anything with the color, you have to restore the picture itself.

To fix the faded are of the photo, I reduced the exposure, added contrast using curves (Dustin shows more on how to do this below) and added a bit of clarity.  This made the photo start to look much better, but I felt like I couldn't see their faces clearly due to the underexposure.  To fix this, I used the dodge tool in Photoshop to lighten up the heavy shadows in their eyes.

Last, I worked on the colorization.  I teach how to change color in my online Photoshop class, so this may be familiar to those of you who are former students.  All you have to do is create a blank layer above the background.  Then, paint in the appropriate color right on top of the picture.  When you're done painting the color, go to blending modes and set the blending mode to “Color.”  This will most likely produce a color that is too vivid, so after painting you will want to press Ctrl U to open the hue and saturation dialogue box.  Then, reduce the saturation of the color you painted.

For directions on how to colorize a black and white photo using Photoshop Elements, click here.

Old family history photo before Photoshop
The original “before” photo that we started with.
Jim's restored and colorized photo
Jim's restored and colorized photo

Dustin Here: I love the Photoshop challenge of a photo restoration. Some older photos are nice and easy require little restoration – others require nearly a complete reconstruction for the photo to be remotely close to what it was before. And that's what I love – it pushes my limits of Photoshop and I use new tools to make it happen.

Dustin's Process: In this particular photo, I applied several adjustment layers that control the brightness and contrast so that I could get individual and certain areas of the photo just right. My goal with this restoration was to be able bring back the details that has been faded out the best that I could. Some areas were completely missing cause it completely faded away and I did what I could to reconstruct those areas without it taking away from the photo itself. The biggest tip that I can offer to you as you attempt your own photo restoration is this:

Step 1. Create a curves adjustment layer on top of your original image. This was the first thing  I did once the image was opened in Photoshop.

Step 2. Under the Properties panel for the Curves adjustment, you'll see three eye-dropper tools. They each control something different – Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights. You now might be seeing how the eye-droppers are colored a little bit different too.

Step 3. Now – start with the eye-dropper tool for the Shadows and select the darkest area of the photo. You'll start to see the adjustment take affect on your photo – do the same thing with the mid-tones (by selecting the most neutral gray area) and the highlights (by selecting the brightest area of the photo).

Step 4. This will give you a really good base to start with. Especially if you're trying to restore a faded photo or a dark photo. Afterwhich, feel free to create other adjustments, etc to bring the photo into it's brightest glory. 🙂

"Love is a battlefield."
“Love is a battlefield.”
Click to the see the before/after side-by-side
Click to the see the before/after side-by-side

Let the Voting Begin!

As our way of making the photo duels more lively, we ask you to vote on whose version of the photo you like the best.  Please note that you do NOT have to share this to your Facebook page or Twitter feed in order to vote.  It just gives you that as an option after you've clicked your vote.

11 thoughts on “Old Photo Restoration in Photoshop [Duel]”

  1. I really can’t decide which one I like best. You both did a great job at restoring this photo. Jim’s version (colored one) looks like some of the old pictures my family has from that time period, when they actually painted the pictures to colorize them. Dustin’s looks more like what the original snap shot would have. You both did well

  2. I like the colored photo, because there seems to be a bit more detail in the faces.

  3. I’m so excited to see this post! I picked up some of my Grandparent’s photo albums a couple of weeks ago to try to scan and restore some of the faded photos. I want to incorporate them into a photo book with family memories. So this is a very timely project for me. Thanks!!

  4. I liked how the colored picture almost made facial features more recognizable.. although I like how the black and white was probably restored closer to its original state. Hard to choose…..

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