When restoring old photos, you’ll likely run into more than a few wood floors. In early portraits, mostly the 1860 -1870 variety, the studios themselves often had wood plank flooring. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the wood floor pictured in the photograph is a mess, which chances are it will be. What would you? You have, from where I’m sitting, at least three options (maybe more, but I’m only going to talk about three today, so there you have it:
First option (Forget it): Make the floor “plain”. In other words, strip out all the wood and replace it with a plain color, even a gradient. Imagine, if you will, a beautiful wood floor in your home. Now, go slap some paint over it. Exactly! Don’t do it in your restoration, either.
Second option (Comp it): Find a good photo of a wood floor on the internet and composite it in. I have done and continue to do this. I have a good collection of photos of everyday objects I use to composite from. Yes, you can just lift them from anywhere because after you’re done no one will know where you got it. Except you. Stock photo sites have good selections and you can just buy the cheapest, lower quality ones. This is probably your best option, most of the time.
For when the second won’t work: I frankly haven’t found too many incidences when it wouldn’t, but here’s a good example. A week ago a client brought me a 1×5 foot photograph, taken in 1918, of the officers and crew of the U.S.S. Kearsarge. Obviously, at 1×5 feet, it would be redundant for me to say it was huge, so suffice it to say that the tightly rolled, quite brittle photograph had to be very carefully scanned in many pieces and stitched together using the Auto-Align Layers feature in Photoshop CS4. The originally cropped panorama reverted back to an uncropped panoramic state when re-pieced together, so if I had cropped it at that point, I would have lost a lot of the bottom of the photo, including some text. I therefore needed to extend the ships deck enough to get a good crop line low enough to retain the pertinent information. One one end of the photo this was easy enough. There was a lot of great decking information available to clone from.
The other side – not so much.
In fact it looked rather like Option One, above. Using a composite and distorting the perspective was good at first, but it was getting major complicated about the time the perspective had the wood going into horizontal. Besides, it was looking pretty pooey. So, I moved on to the next option…
Third option (Fake it): When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So instead of compositing new decking on top of, then blending into the old, I simply put a wood texture on top of the existing decking. Creating a wood texture from scratch was the only way to go. Again, if I used a composite I would have had to distort each plank individually and, if only using one reference photo, all the grain would be the same. Here’s how I made the wood texture I needed.
Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool, I selected one of the decking boards. On a new layer, fill the selection with either a match with what you’re placing the texture over, or white. For this demonstration I used white for the fill.
Next, add noise in the Filter menu (Filter > Noise > Add Noise). Always use the Monochromatic selection, but otherwise mix up the options each time you do this step. Vary the amount of noise and the distribution. The goal is to make each plank different, even if just slightly.
Going again to the Filter menu, give it a Motion Blur (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur). In this step, you can vary the distance every once in a while, but be very careful to adjust the direction of the blur each and every time, making sure it follows the “grain” of the wood.
Returning to the Filter menu, this time we’re going to give a little depth to the “grain” with a Poster Edge (Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges). You can vary the settings in this step, also, but the default settings are also fine.
To finish off our easy wood texture, we’ll put it through a Layer Blend Mode. Again, you want to vary these! I used Darken, Multiply, Color Burn, Soft Light, Overlay…Each gives a different tone which helps the wood look a little more “real”.
The blend modes that work best for you may differ, depending on the colors and tones in your photograph. Run through all of them to choose the best ones for your project. Now, lower the opacity. I used different settings, again, to achieve variation, but kept in the 5% to 15% range. You don’t want the grain stronger than the rest of the photograph.
And that, as they say, is that. If you ever need to fix a wood floor in your digital photo restoration and a composite isn’t practical, give this technique a try! Just remember to use a light hand and keep it subtle!
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