Photos don’t always age gracefully. Your old black-and-white portraits may be dotted with dust and scratches. The images might have yellowed or faded. In your ancestors’ day, the only way to fix bartered pictures was to take them to an expensive photo retoucher. With today’s computer technology and a little practice, however, even amateurs can scan, repair and enhance old family photos, then print out new copies that look as good as the day the pictures were snapped.
Most people think of programs such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, both created by Adobe <www.adobe.com>, as tools for working with color images. But these powerful programs can come to the rescue of your old black-and-white photos, too. Their tools let you sharpen a scanned image, “clone” areas, visually repair torn or damaged photos, blur defects and even colorize black-and-white pictures. Best of all, you can experiment without risking further damage to your precious originals.
You’ll need a scanner to get digital versions of your damaged photos into your computer. You’ll need a computer, of course — both Photoshop and its inexpensive sibling Photoshop Elements work on Macs as well as PCs. And you’ll need a printer to share your retouched images with the rest of the family. Once you’re equipped, try these tricks.
Do away with dust and scratches.
Another easy technique is to use the Eye-dropper tool to copy a part of the picture that has a similar color, and then use the Paintbrush tool to paint over the dust or scratch.
Try different tools to figure out which works best for the situation. The right tool will depend on the texture of the background around the scratch or dust, your intended effect and the amount of control needed to achieve that effect.
These three related fixes work best for targeted touchups. If you cry to use them on the entire image, rather than a single damaged area, they tend to blur the picture — sometimes more than you’d like.
That leads us to our final dust-and-scratch-eliminating method, which takes longer and requires the full Photoshop program, but yields a better end result. First select the Dust & Scratches tool, and move the tool slider to the left. Then move Radius and Threshold to the right until the dust and scratches are removed (the slightly blurry effect is OK — we’ll fix that).
Let the light in.
Add a touch of color.
Many Photoshop and Photoshop Elements users think that “colorizing” a photo means just painting over it with the Paintbrush tool. But the texture of the underlying area gets lost when the Paintbrush lays down only a selected color, leading to a two-dimensional appearance when you want a 3-D look. Photoshop offers a better way.
The first step in colorizing an old black-and-white picture you’ve scanned in shades of gray (“grayscale”) is to convert it to RGB format (short for Red-Green-Blue). Simply click on the Image menu, then hover over Mode and select RGB.
Now pick an a tea that you want to change to a specific color — your Civil War ancestor’s blue Union cap, for example. Select the area with the Lasso tool; or if it’s a defined shape such as a circle or a square, use the regular selection tools. Next, in Photoshop Elements, select Enhance, then Adjust Color, then Hue/Saturation. (In Photoshop, it’s Image, then Adjust, then Hue/Saturation.) When you click on the Colorize box, the program automatically colors your selected area — no painting required. You can adjust the color by changing the levels of hue, saturation and lightness. Click and drag on the adjustment toggles, or type a value in the number field.
The Variations command also lets you colorize a black-and-white photograph. Select the area exactly as you did before, but instead of following the steps above, select Image, then Adjust, then Variations. From the Variations box, you can add more color to that area, such as yellow, red and so forth. The shadows, midtones, highlights and saturation can all be adjusted on the toolbar.
Successful photo retouching starts with a good scan. If you don’t digitize pictures properly, you’ll end up doing extra work to get the results you want. Save time and effort in your Photoshop endeavors by heeding this advice at the scanner:
Be sure the glass is clean. Stray dust or dirt on your scanner creates even more blemishes for you to fix. Wipe down the glass with a soft, lint-free cloth, and be gentle: if you scratch the surface, it’ll show up in all your scans.
Always preview. Don’t send your image directly to Photoshop — you’ll save time by troubleshooting first. Scanning software lets you preview your picture before you make the final scan. (Many programs will automatically detect a photo on the scanner and preview it when you launch the software.) In the preview window, you can tell if the image is crooked or there’s fuzz on the glass. You also can change the settings and see what effect they’ll have on the scan — before you commit to them.
Get the right resolution. Digital-imaging gurus usually advise scanning at the lowest resolution that produces a good image, so your files don’t gobble up your hard drive space. That’s sound advice, but when you’re sprucing up timeworn photos, be wary of setting the resolution too low. You typically need 300 to 600 dots per inch (dpi) to get a print-quality image. To correct little imperfections, though, you might want to blow up the area without losing clarity. For example, say you want to work on a ½-inch section of a 5×7 photo. You might not see enough detail when you zoom in on a 300-dpi image; in that case, a resolution of 600 dpi could be a better choice. You can decrease the resolution — and the file size — once you’ve finished retouching.
Also consider what size you want the finished picture to be, and set the resolution accordingly. Remember: You can always increase the resolution by making an image smaller, but you’ll lose resolution when you enlarge the image. So if you want to make the image bigger, you should scan the picture at a higher resolution from the get-go.
Optimize your output. Just as there’s an appropriate resolution for every scanning job, there’s an appropriate output. This is the option in your scanning utility that calibrates the scanner for the type of material you’re digitizing — a color photograph, grayscale photograph or line art, for example. Be sure to pick the corresponding setting: Scanning Great-grandma’s class picture as line art could result in an indistinguishable mass of students. And note that there’s no advantage to scanning a black-and-white photo as color — it’ll just increase the file size. You may get better contrast and crispness in grayscale, anyway.
Crop before you scan. Old photos often have frayed, torn or folded edges. Rather than retouching the entire background, you can simply crop them out of the photo. (But be careful not to delete any important image details, such as props, buildings or the photographers’ imprints that often appear on old photographs’ cardboard backings.) Scanning software lets you crop your pictures before you create the final scan; usually, this involves merely adjusting the image selection in the preview window. (Drag the dotted lines around the picture until they enclose the area of the photograph you want to scan.) You’ll eliminate some damage, give your scan a crisp edge and reduce the file size.