Restoring Accurate Color of old photos

While very old black-and-white photos are more susceptible to damage than fading, color photos typically require a different type of restoration. Even when stored in ideal conditions, the organic dyes in color prints simply break down over time and cause color shifts. Not only are the colors typically not as vibrant as they once were, but also color shifts to magenta, blue or other colors also occur. And while working with color repairs can sometimes be frustrating, it can also be one of the simplest fixes as Photoshop’s automatic contrast and color controls can go a long way to making faded color photos look great.

This family photo is no antique, but it’s still in need of serious restoration—not due to damage but due to the fading that naturally happens to color prints over time.

Type 1: Repair with photoshop

The simplest fix is Auto Color, found under the Image menu. Click it, and Photoshop will analyze the scene and attempt to correct the color balance. In the best-case scenario, this fix looks great, and it’s all the repair that’s needed. In the worst-case scenario, though, it looks terrible and should be immediately undone (command+z). More often, it makes for some improvement, requiring further manual adjustment by eye.

Do note that in an image such as the example shown here, the white background of the scanner is interpreted by Photoshop to be the white level in the image. So, in order to make a more accurate automatic adjustment, select just the image area of the original with no white scanner background. This way Photoshop will establish the color and contrast based solely on the print.

To use Photoshop’s Auto Color adjustment more effectively, first make a selection to isolate the image area from the bright white edges of the scanner backing. This will tell Photoshop to establish the true white level based on the faded paper in the print.

To put the finishing touches on color, use the Color Balance and Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers. For simple shifts, color balance is an easy way to adjust sliders to add or subtract from an overall cast. For more control, try the Hue/Saturation adjustment and choose Master in the dropdown of the Properties palette to change overall hue and saturation across the scene, or switch to one of the individual colors (reds, yellows, greens, cyans, blues, magentas) and adjust the saturation, luminosity and saturation of any specific color found in the scene. To eliminate a magenta cast, for instance, dial down the magenta saturation slider. If you’re unsure of exactly what slider might work best, click on the finger icon in the Properties palette to then click and drag on any color in the scene, and Photoshop will adjust the corresponding sliders.

The Curves adjustment layer makes tremendous strides in restoring not only color but contrast. Using the black point eyedropper, click on an area of the image that should be established as pure black. Then use the white point eyedropper for white and, should you choose to go further, the gray point eyedropper to set middle gray.

Finishing Touches When Restoring Old Photos

The image should now look all but perfect. For the finishing touches, consider adjusting the contrast with a Curves adjustment layer, whether you’re working with a color or black-and-white image. When the Properties palette opens (after clicking on the Curves adjustment layer icon in the Adjustments palette), click on the black point eyedropper near the top of the window. Then, click on the darkest area in the scene to tell Photoshop this tone should be black. Then, choose the white point eyedropper and click the lightest portion of the scene to set the white point. This will also help eliminate some color cast as well, and if these adjustments appear too heavy-handed, simply dial back the layer’s opacity in the Layers palette.

To help sharpen an image that wasn’t perfectly in focus in the first place, duplicate the color-corrected image onto a new layer and use the High Pass filter to create a map of the contrast edges in the scene, then change the layer mode to Overlay and use a layer mask to selectively add sharpness to only the areas most in need—such as the faces of the women shown here. Too much sharpening will amplify grain and other issues in the print, so it’s best to keep it subtle and isolate the sharpening to only the most necessary places.

If the image needs sharpening, try a high pass layer. Copy the image to a new layer and then choose Filter>Other>High Pass. Use the radius slider that appears to dial the resulting sharpness up or down, based on which edges become visible in the preview. Aim for the appearance of minimal detail in order to avoid oversharpening, click OK to render the filter, then change the layer mode of this high pass layer to Overlay. This hides all the gray portions of the layer and effectively sharpens the edges. Dialing down the layer’s opacity pulls back on this sharpening effect.

The final image after color correction and sharpening.

Type 2: Smart repair using imgkits

Compared with the manual use of photoshop software, the biggest advantage of imgkits is that you only need to upload photos. The artificial intelligence system will automatically identify the wrinkles, spots, missing, color and other defects of the uploaded photos, and the photos can be repaired in 1 minute.