Photo Restore

With Curves and Channel Mixer Adjustment Layers

Completing a Photo Restore on an image that does not seem salvageable is much easier when Curves are combined with Channel Mixer.  

Take this photo restore project for instance ...

(Mouseover to see before and after)

OK - I know what you're thinking - "Whoa - this guy is good!"

Well thanks - but I am only applying techniques and you can do it as well and maybe even better than me!
photo restore histogram
The original scan certainly leaves a lot to be desired. The histogram is weighted to the right (mostly mid-tones and highlights) and there is also that really annoying sepia color cast.

Now maybe you like that sepia look but personally I find it really difficult to work with an image that looks like that.

If you really like it then you can put the sepia back in after you complete your curves and other adjustments.

So how did this washed out scan become so much better - well - here's how ...

Convert To Black and White

The first step in this photo restore is to convert the image to black and white and that means ...

... when you have an image like this one - always, always, always scan it in RGB.

If you scan this as a Black and White (which it is with that annoying sepia tone) then you are limiting your options and you don't want to do that, now do you?

When its scanned as RGB then you have access to the Channels that make up the RGB image - that is the Red, Green and Blue Channels and there is a lot of useful information there.

You could easily choose Desaturate or Grayscale - but don't do it!  They are much too limiting.

What we will do is use the Channel Mixer with information we get from the Channels Palette (I learned this from someone recently but be darned if I know where).

Channels Palette

Open the Channels Palette (Window > Channels).  Mine lives with the Layers Palette which makes it easy to switch back and forth.

This is what you will see Channels Palette...

The top one is the composite RGB channel ...
The next one is the Red Channel ...
The next one is the Green Channel ...
and the bottom one is the Blue Channel ...

If your Red, Green and Blue Channels are in color then go to Photoshop Preferences > Interface and Uncheck "Show Channels In Color".

Now you can look at each Channel in turn to evaluate how much each one contributes to the overall image quality and brightness.  There is no right and wrong here - its a subjective thing.

Here are my three channels:

photo restore Red Channel

Red Channel

photo restore Green Channel

Green Channel

photo restore Blue Channel

Blue Channel

Its clear that each channel is contributing something ...

Red Channel - very flat with hardly any detail
Green Channel - still flat but some detail
Blue Channel - much better contrast with much more detail

From this evaluation it would seem logical that we would like to have our black and white conversion based primarily on the Blue Channel with some influence from the other two, doesn't it?

I decided to start out my conversion to black and white with 20% Red, 25% Green and 55% Blue in the Channel Mixer (the goal most of the time is to have the three channels, red, green and blue, add up to 100%).

I created a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer, put a check in the Monochrome box and dialed in the three numbers and then evaluated the results.  Oops - still way too flat (the red and green channels had too much influence).

After some messing about with the numbers this is what I ended up with - 5% Red, 5% Green and 90% Blue for a grand total of 100%.

photo restore channel mixer

This is how the picture looks after applying the Channel Mixer ...

image after CM

The interesting thing is that this modification had a positive effect on the histogram - like this ...

After channel mixer

It's still not perfect but there it is a marked improvement.  The rest of the photo restore will be done with Curves ...

Adding A Curves Adjustment Layer

I created a new Curves Adjustment Layer and set a highlight and shadow point like this ... remember moving any point above the diagonal line makes the picture lighter and moving any point on the line below the line makes the picture darker.

(If you are not really familiar with Curves, then spend a bit of time learning more about how to use them here.  Once you are familiar with Curves you will use them a lot in all kinds of different situations!)

To get a nice contrast didn't take much adjustment at all - just a nudge up in the highlight area and a nudge down in the shadow area.

curves dialogue

You can either move the highlight point up with your pen (mouse if you must) or select a point on the line and use the up arrow key to make more precise adjustments.  The point does not need to be moved much to make a big difference.

When you are happy with the first adjustment select the point in the shadow area and move it down - either with your pen or with the arrow keys.

What these two adjustments will do is lighten the highlights and darken the shadows which improves the contrast of the image.

The end result of this small adjustment is this ...

family cleaned up

... which is a really nice improvement on the original scanned photograph.

Here is the final Histogram which is more balanced.  The large spike in the highlight area is the frame around the picture.

photo restore histogram

In addition to using a curves adjustment layer, I cleaned up the edges of the photo and the name.

I can ramble on for pages and pages about this photo restore but it is probably better if you simply follow along with the video.

Photo Restore Video

Photo Restore How To ...


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