Before I go on, I have to admit that I am not a photographer nor any kind of graphic artist. I am just someone who knows just enough to be productive. There. Now I feel better. Recently, my Mother turned eighty years old. My sister had a pile of old photos that she just wanted me to scan, print and put them on DVD. Well, most of the photos were in poor shape: faded color, discolored paper, folds, rips, etc. As I was scanning them, I figured that I could clean them up and help my Mother remember the times they were taken. To do the cleanup, I used an old version of Paint Shop Pro and Adobe Photoshop Elements 4. Both applications work just dandy under Vista-don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The version of Paint Shop Pro that I used is 7, but the techniques should work on any version of Paint Shop Pro. They should work in any similar application that has a clone tool, able to blur or sharpen and do basic color fixing. I’m not going to go into great detail, I am just going to cover a few basic things you can do to bring out detail and fix a few things.
The first thing I did on all of the monochrome photos was fix the contrast. I had already scanned them in using the gray scale function of the scanner (my scanner is an HP photosmart 2410 multifunction printer) so I did not need to convert them to gray scale. Scanning them as gray scale got rid of the discoloration or sepia tones. The photos were originally black and white and should be restored as such. Reserve sepia tone for that ‘special photo’, typically a soft toned portrait. Once scanned in, I would open the photo in Paint Shop Pro. I would then select EFFECT->ENHANCE PHOTO->AUTOMATIC CONTRAST ENHANCEMENT to make the details and photo ‘pop’ . This alone made a huge difference. You can further adjust the contrast, but that is for another time. Next, I would fix scratches and, in some case, missing pieces of the photo. Look at the two photos here. The first is the scanned image, the second is the finished photo. As you can see, the scanned image was pretty dull, had pieces missing and, worse, the original was taped in a photo album and the tape had discolored and just looked awful. The second photo is much nicer. Note that I cropped the photo to even it up and get rid of some of the ripped edges. Next, using the clone tool, I ‘fixed’ the tape flaws and upper left, where the photo had ripped. I also use the clone tool to fill in the parts of the photo that had missing elements, like the white dots in his hair. Using the clone tool is tricky and can take several tries before getting it correct. The key is to select portions of the photo that is near the part you need to fix but not so close that you end up cloning the defect. If you enlarge the finish photo and look closely at the area where the door meets the roof and you can see that I simply cloned a small part of the area to fill in the missing part of the photo. Most of the tape damage was cropped out, but there was still a bit of it on the shirt and upper arm. Careful use of the clone tool filled in ‘good’ information over the bad stuff. Using the clone tool to fill in larger areas is possible, but really should only be done on surfaces made up of random textures such as a road, dirt, sky, solid areas, etc. This particular photo took me about twenty-five minutes to get it the I thought it should look. Both my Mother and sister were very pleased with the outcome. The three basic techniques I used here were the cropping tool, contrast enhancement and the clone tool.
The color photos were a bit more challenging. The color photos of the 1950’s through the 1970’s faded quite a bit. I have no idea why they faded so much, but I’m sure some of you fully understand the why’s. Anyway, with one exception, I was able to make the photos look a bit newer than they really are. One photo was just too far gone for me to fix so I just made a gray scale photo. Maybe the full on Adobe products could have helped, but I am a cheap one. The methods I used were very similar to the photo I discussed above. I added a couple of extra steps, though. After scanning (for color, this time) I pumped up the contrast as before, but then I selected EFFECT->ENHANCE PHOTO->AUTOMATIC COLOR BALANCE and then EFFECT->ENHANCE PHOTO->AUTOMATIC SATURATION ENHANCEMENT. I would then use the clone tool to fix any blemishes or missing pieces. On some of the photos, I had to do bit more tweaking of the color. Paint Shop Pro has extensive tools for doing this. I used the gamma correction, manual color balance and the HIGHLIGHT/MIDTONE/SHADOW adjustment tools to further enhance the color. The results were quite pleasing and very easy to do. It will take some trial and error, but the results are quite amazing at times. You can compare the before and after in the next two photos.
As you can see, the results for this photo are quite impressive and I spent only a few more minutes than I did with the black and whites. Someone with more expertise in this area could probably do more, but what I did is easy and you do not need to be an expert to do this and the results can be quite pleasing.
Once I had the photos scanned and restored as much as I could, I used Microsoft’s Photostory 3, which is a terrific application, to make a video slideshow. Photostory 3 let’s you pan and scan a photo, zoom in or out and perform a plethora of wipes, transitions and other effects. I then used Vista’s DVD Maker to add menus and other family information for an interactive trip down memory lane.
Windows Live Photo Gallery is actually quite capable of making some of the changes that I did in Paint Shop Pro. If you do not have access to something like Paint Shop Pro but you do have XP or Vista (any flavor) then you can use Live Photo Gallery to make the contrast and color enhancements. You can choose the automatic fix or you can adjust them manually. I have found the automatic enhancement works very well. Photo Gallery does not have a clone tool, but you can at least bring up the contrast and do some color fixing.
There are a number of free alternatives to Paint Shop Pro. My favorite is Paint.net. Paint.net is a reasonable copy of Paint Shop Pro and can be found here. Of course there is always the Gimp. I’m not a huge fan of the Gimp, but it works very well. I just don’t like the interface all that much.