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Lightening Up A Dark Image with Photoshop

In a perfect world your old photographs will always be out of a frame, or can be easily removed, in great shape and you’ll always have the most perfect equipment. Unfortunately, for most of us anyway, it’s not a perfect world and sometimes photos are in frames you can’t take them out of, are in horrible shape and the equipment you have may not be the best equipment for the job. For instance, you may be in a position where you can’t remove an image from a frame and you have to take a picture of your picture.  If you happen to be a seasoned photographer with a great camera, filters and anything else you might need, that’s perfect! If all you have is a point & shoot or your camera, things may turn out a little differently.

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This image was actually scanned while still in the frame.  It came out very dark and, naturally, I needed to lighten things up a bit. The first thing I used was my go-to adjustment for lightening, Curves.  Since the image is so dark, I only used the white eyedropper on the lightest area I could find.

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Now that it was lighter, I wanted to bring it back down and get some more tone and contrast back, so for my next step I duplicated the entire image (Image > Duplicate), and then flattened it by right clicking on one of the layers and selecting Flatten Image. Next, I went to the Image menu, then Adjustments and selected HDR Toning. Yes, now I’m not only using HDR Toning to sharpen my images, but also to bring out tone and contrast. Call me crazy.

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I wanted to select a preset that brought out the tones, so I selected Photorealistic High Contrast and pushed the detail slider up to around 90%. After hitting OK, I made sure the Move Tool was selected and moved the HDR image over to the tab of the original image, holding the Shift key down at the same time to place the image squarely on top of the original. Do not delete the HDR duplicate! We’ll be coming back to it in a little while. I finished this step off by bringing the opacity down to 50% and changing the Blending Mode to Overlay.

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I’m generally happy, now, with the overall improvement, but I want to make a few more specific tweaks, the first being the skin tone. The lady is looking a bit on the grey side. Since this image is actually a hand tinted image, therefore has some color, I thought bringing some color back into her skin wouldn’t be amiss. I started out with more of a peach tone but changed to a stronger, more coral tone as I went along.

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There’s no set formula for this, just trial and error. Due to the subtle nature of the image color, I wanted just a hint of color, so I changed the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light and took the Opacity down to 25%. Try your skin tones on a portion of the face and then change the settings to these values, or whatever you chose to use, to see how it will look. Keep trying different tones until you find one you like.

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Next I wanted to get rid of some of the silvering, those light bluish areas in the dark parts of the image. There are a number of ways to do this, but after a few other techniques that didn’t wow me, I decided to use a Black and White Adjustment layer.  After adding the adjustment, I scrolled through the presets to see which one did the best job at covering the silvering. The winner was the High Contrast Red filter.

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Next I inverted the adjustment mask (Ctrl or Cmd +I) , made sure my foreground color was white, and painted the Black and White back in on the silvered areas.

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Since the Black and White areas still looked a little too, well, Black and White to me, I then went over the background with a brown tone. I used the eyedropper tool to pick a tone from the background and went over all of the areas that I thought should have the brown tone.

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I then softened the edges using Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and since I just wanted a tint of color I changed the Blend Mode to Soft Light and lowered the opacity to 25%.

©Saunders Collection ©LandailynCPR

Remember the duplicate image I used for the HDR Toning that I warned against deleting? This is where it comes in again. Go back to that image and, using the Move Tool, again move it into the tab of the original image, holding down shift to center it on top of the other layers. Add a Layer Mask to it, Invert the mask (Ctrl or Cmd +I) and with white as the foreground color, begin painting in areas that the toning enhances. If you paint in an area and it looks worse, simply change the paint color to black and paint it out again. The lighter areas, the dress in particular, are really enhanced by this step.

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I didn’t like the way the side of the chair looked with the HDR painted on, nor did I like it left as it was. What I wanted was a happy medium. To achieve that I simply clicked on the foreground color to bring up the color picker and changed the color to something around a 50% grey, closed the color picker and painted it in on the area I only wanted to half show. After I was through painting the mask in, I softened the edges using Gaussian Blur and lowered the opacity to 50%.

©Saunders Collection ©LandailynCPR

While there are still a lot of little bits of restoration work to be done, I think you’ll agree the change is pretty remarkable. Even when you don’t have the perfect equipment for every situation, Photoshop, experimentation and some skill really can make a world of difference!

More:  Beyond Ordinary HDR

 

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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.

1 Comment on Lightening Up A Dark Image with Photoshop

  1. great tutorial, very interesting…

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