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Working with old photos

Mar 5, 2012 9:36 AM

I have lots of old photos from my family.  Most are over 70 years old.  Trying to understand how to improve them.  My question concerns the aging process. I have lots of photos that appear light and/or brownish in color.  I do not know if they were originally black and white and just faded into a tannish brown or whether that was a way of processing photos 70 years ago or so.

This is the kind of photo I am referencing.







This is what i am referencingJulia B., Mattie & Charles.jpg

  • Currently Being Moderated
    Mar 5, 2012 9:45 AM   in reply to takavulla

    Sepia prints were very stylish back then, so normally they probably were brown to begin with, if that's your question. However, the yellowing of the paper makes me wonder a bit about the image you posted.

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    Mar 5, 2012 10:08 AM   in reply to takavulla

    Many of these vintage photographs have the sepia effect. I have found that converting them to black & white is the way to go.


    I spent a few minutes on your picture. Try this:


    1. Open picture file
    2. Duplicate background layer
    3. Go to Enhance>convert to black and white
    4. Open a levels adjustment layer above this, and gently work the sliders below the histogram

    5. Merge down. You will have 2 layers: Background & background copy.
    6. Duplicate the background copy layer and work on this. If you don't like the result, delete this layer and try again.

    7. Access the burn tool, set exposure 5%, Range:midtones, then burn over the lady on the left in front of the barn, and other areas to suit
    8. Finally sharpen a bit ---Enhance>unsharp mask  70, 0.9, 1

    9. Flatten image
    10. Go to Select>all, then Edit>stroke (outlne) selection, position:inside, stroke width=3px




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    Mar 5, 2012 10:25 AM   in reply to takavulla

    Often you can do wonders on an old faded or yellowed picture by simply running Auto Levels, Auto Color Correction, or a combination of both. Here is one I did:


    TBI2 b.jpg


    Auto Levels and Auto Color Correction yielded this:


    TBI2 a.jpg


    (I did some other corrections to remove scratches and speckles)


    Here are the same corrections with your picture:




    Of course there are lots of ways to make further improvements: remove scratches, sharpen, add a frame, convert to sepia, etc.

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    Mar 5, 2012 10:25 AM   in reply to hatstead

    Sorry, i neglected to fix the tear or crease on the left. This can be done with the healing brush.169819_377_600_cache_3jpg.jpg

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  • Sawdust-2
    3 posts
    Mar 5, 2012
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    Mar 5, 2012 12:43 PM   in reply to takavulla

    I also have been scanning many very old photos and have another twist to the topic. I have found that most  old portraits, that were done in a studio, were originally sepia toned when my family member got them.   This has been the case since at least the early 1900's.   In fact, even my old high school photo back in the 60's, was done that way.   I scan everything in color, and then make adjustments to retain that slight sepia tone.   I think converting them to grayscale isn't appropriate in those cases.   However, in Tim's example, it clearly was a regular b/w snapshot and once all the levels, contrast, fixing, etc are done, I think it's OK to convert to grayscale.



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    Mar 5, 2012 12:46 PM   in reply to Sawdust-2

    Thanks for your valued input.

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    Mar 5, 2012 1:48 PM   in reply to Sawdust-2

    It's a lot easier to take a scanned old photo and first use Enhance...Convert to Black and White to get rid of all the colour information.  Your retouching (fixing tears, and faded portions of the image) will be a lot easier.  When you're finished, it's a very simple matter to add a sepia tone if you wish.



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    Mar 5, 2012 1:55 PM   in reply to takavulla

    The first thing to do is get rid of the colour.  I used Enhance...Convert to Black and White...Scenic Landscape and increased the contrast.  Then add a Levels adjustment layer with these settings:

    old photo levels settings.png

    to get this image as a starting point:

    old photo bw.png

    After that, it's a matter of painting with the Burn tool and using the Spot Healing brush as previously described.



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    Mar 5, 2012 2:02 PM   in reply to photodrawken

    I converted to b/w as described in my previous post

    Added a levels adjustment layer

    Added a photofilter adjustment layer with filter 85, density 31%, preserved luminosity

    Sharpened with high pass filter in overlay mode @17.7px

    Added wood frame



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