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Color Away Discoloration with Photoshop

Do you have any photos that have spots and splotches of color on them that was never part of the original photo? Fellow NAPP member Bob Byington had such a photo and asked me if I could help him to get rid of the spots, yellow stains which, as he said, “looked like mustard.” Bob was kind enough to let me use his question, and his photo, today. Thanks Bob!

With this particular photo, the first thing I did was a color correction. Yes, you can do it without, but the color cast is yellow, so it can disguise the spots. If you correct the overall color, you’ll be more apt to see all the problem areas that will just show up when you do finally correct the color. I did a Levels Adjustment to correct the color, adjusting each color channel (Red, Green and Blue) separately by moving the shadow and highlight (black and white) sliders until they’re within the histogram.

Now the discolorations should stand out more and will no doubt be in more places than you thought.

Take your Eyedropper color selector tool and sample an area next to a discolored area.

Make a new blank layer. Change the Layer Blend Mode of the layer from Normal to Color. Paint in the discolored area nest to where you made your selection. If the area you’re painting starts to look to bright, or too gray, use the Eyedropper and select a color closer to that area. Keep painting. If the layer was set back to Normal Layer Blend Mode, it would look a little like “My First Paint By Number”, but that’s okay!

When you think you’re done, take a look at the overall color of the photo. In this instance, I loved the rosy skin color on the right of the little girls face, but the left side wasn’t so rosy. I sampled some of the rosy skin color and painted over the areas I thought needed a little pinking up on a new blank layer. I changed the Layer Blend Mode to Color and lowered the Opacity to 40%.  This also helped to blend any more little discolorations on the face.

Keep an eye out for any more discolorations as you work on the rest of the photo. Some will be small enough to take care of with the Healing Brush, Clone Stamp or Patch tools, but don’t hesitate to sample and use the Color Layer Blend Mode as much as you need to.

Author Disclaimer: No one technique is ever “the best” for every situation. Every photo is different and different methods should be explored to find which the best in that particular situation is. That being said, let it be known that I attempt to try and teach many different ways of doing things. If I employ one way and it seems to you, the reader, that another way may have worked as well or better, rest assured that the techniques being used are done so in the interest of creative exploration, not nescient omission. ~JS

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.

6 Comments on Color Away Discoloration with Photoshop

  1. Thanks for the hint on color blend mode. I had never heard of that. I have many old photos with those stains, so I look forward to putting this technique to work.

  2. Thanks for the hint on color blend mode. I had never heard of that. I have many old photos with those stains, so I look forward to putting this technique to work.

  3. Kevin Barthelemy // 10/04/2015 at 10:01 pm //

    I’ve been trying different techniques to solve this problem for years, with nothing satisfactory. This works so fantastically well it boggles my mind. Goodbye color blotches!

  4. Mark Castle // 10/06/2018 at 5:44 pm //

    Janine, in a word, genius!
    Thank you so much for sharing this, I was able to restore some very blotchy neg scans using your technique.

  5. Stephanie // 22/10/2018 at 8:43 pm //

    This isn’t working for me. I’ve got some blue color stains on a photo, and no matter what I do, this is NOT coloring away the color stains! It paints over the discoloration, but then all I have is the color layer painting over the blue, and the two colors just blend together. THen it looks worse than before. I thought maybe it was an outdated technique until I saw someone had commented on it in 2018. Why is this working for everyone else but not me?

  6. Forty2 // 11/05/2021 at 2:42 am //

    What worked for me, Stephanie, was after creating the new layer and setting it to color mode, flipping back to the image layer, picking up a sample with the dropper, then flipping to the new layer in color blend mode and painting with the paintbrush tool (B). I had similar blue stains from a scanned 35mm slide and this worked.

    Yeah I know I’m a few years late but hey.

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