How faded is too faded? How do you know when an image can be brought back? Unless an image is solid white or solid black, you don’t know until you try! How about one as badly faded as this one? Can you bring anything back?
The answer is yes. However, one as bad as this will probably never be a pristine, like new image. So something like this might not ever be frame worthy, but especially for genealogical purpose, you can still bring back the image for things like identification purposes.
When you have an image this bad chances are you won’t be completing the process in one step. Not all adjustments will work on every image, but my favorite starting point is a Curves adjustment. Only use the black eye dropper and work with the darkest areas of the image and leave the opacity at 100%.
This has brought out a lot of the image, but it could still be darker, especially on the faces, which is the most important part when you’re doing the work for identification. To darken things up a little more you can try a Layer Blend Mode layer. Select the top layer in the layer stack and use keyboard shortcut Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E, Shift + Cmd + Opt + E on a Mac, to make a new combined layer. Scroll through the Layer Blend Modes until you find one that darkens and improves the tonality. I found that Linear Burn at 100% opacity worked best on this image.
Another darkening method to try, or to combine with the previous adjustments is a combination of Layer Blend Modes and Fill. Add a blank layer, make sure black is your foreground color and fill the blank layer. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light, 100% opacity.
If you want to pull individual areas, such as facial features out a bit more, you can add a blank layer, change the Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light, make black the foreground color and, using the brush tool, paint in the areas you want to darken.
In three basic adjustments the image has gone from seemingly hopeless to good enough for a decent identification image. The client was able to pick out his grandfather, his father, an uncle and a family friend. I’d call that a success!
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