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Into The Fade

Last week I was asked to show an alternate method of bringing back faded photos besides that good old reliable Layer Blend Mode, Multiply. Let’s face it, even though that fix has been around since Moses was a tot, the results are somewhat lacking. Yes, it does help, but it could be better. I tend to leave the “one button” fixes alone, and instead opt for combinations of blend modes, filters and sliders to try and get the best result I can. The following fix has worked well for me on many occasions – I find it improves the look of a faded photo more often than not, bringing out nice detail in an otherwise washed out picture.

The first step of this method is always the same. For this, a Levels Adjustment is in order. Go to the Adjustments panel (or the Image menu; Image > Adjustments > Levels) and select Levels. In the Levels Panel, go to the channel selection drop down menu. The combination channel, RGB, is default, but we’re going to take each channel separately.

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Click to Enlarge

Why not just do them all at once? My lifetime membership in the CFU (Control Freaks United) will not allow me to do this! Taking each channel separately allows you to get the exact tones you want. This may not be important to you, and if it’s not, feel free to cut out two steps and work on the RGB channel! Fellow CFU’s, please continue…

We’ll start with this photo. It’s from my family collection, as all photo’s in this tutoral are, and it’s an “orphan photo”, meaning we don’t have a clue who these two children are…

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In the Layers Adjustment Panel, first select the Red Channel. In the Histogram, bring the two outermost sliders in to where the majority of the information is. Sometimes you won’t need to move one slider, as in this case.

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Click to Enlarge

Without hitting OK, select the Green Channel and do the same thing.

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Click to Enlarge

And again with the Blue Channel. Hit OK and return to the Adjustment Menu.

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Click to Enlarge

The second step of this technique is always the same – yet different! Go to the Black and White Adjustment Panel (or the Image menu; Image > Adjustments > Black And White).

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In this panel, I’m all about the presets! Yes, occasionally I venture out and play with the sliders, but I most often end up using a preset, anyway. That’s the difference in this step: the presets! Scroll through them to find the one that gives you the best contrast, tone and clarity. In this first photo, since there’s a distinct blue remnant left on the photo after the Channels adjustments, I went with the Blue Preset, which did away with the blue on the photo!

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Click to Enlarge

Here’s the side by side of the before, and after the fade fix. Keep in mind, the regular restoration still has to be done, but fixing the faded tones will certainly help you!

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Click to Enlarge

In two more examples, both having been taken through the Channel Adjustment, I’ve chosen two different presets in the Black and White Adjustment panel. The first, which also had a blue remnant after the channels, looked much better with the High Contrast Blue Filter preset:

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Click to Enlarge

This next photo looked best using the Lighter Black and White Preset!

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Click to Enlarge

As with all things restoration, there’s no hard and fast rule, no one tool, no one filter, no one method that will work all the time, every time! Choose a path and play! If that doesn’t work, try something else! Combine things, try things and most of all, have fun!

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About Janine Smith (114 Articles)
Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters. <br> Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies. <br> In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine. <br> Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.

2 Comments on Into The Fade

  1. Great post. Adjusting the levels separately makes so much sense, I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it. It never occurred to me that a black and white photo doesn’t fade equally in black and white! Thank you for this new technique.

  2. Neat, just tried this on one of my really old photo’s and it worked great,

    Thanks!

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