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White Out Restoration

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!



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.

4 Comments on White Out Restoration

  1. Great set of tips, also duplicating the layer and selecting “apply Image” in “multiply” mode has a very similar affect. :0)

  2. The Apply Image / Multiply works very well in many instances, although in this particular image it only darkened the original a little, in the initial step, and not nearly as well as curves. It’s something to keep in mind, though, that there are so many ways to do any one thing in Photoshop, and not every one will work on every photo. Try as many as you can think of, and if it doesn’t work at one point in the process, it may work in other!

  3. Excellent tutorial on white out restoration!!! Thanks for sharing this vital info with your visitors.

  4. steve bryson // 16/03/2012 at 10:14 am //

    What a difference – I’d not have believed you could pull that much detail back! Thanks.

    I’ve an old baby photo of my maternal uncle who died years before I was born – the image is slightly coloured and mostly faded, I’ll scan later and work through some of the tutorials you guys have kindly done.

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