Color Restoration in Adobe Photoshop CC


As I mentioned in my earlier post, The 35mm Project, I’ve been busy restoring old 35mm photos I took back in the 1970s and 80s. While it’s been a really fun trip down memory lane, the colors in many of my images has deteriorated over time. While I may not be a PhotoShop guru, I’m nonetheless reasonably proficient, but there’s still more for me to learn, and how to do proper color restoration was high on my list.

A circa 1987 photo of the Golden Gate Bridge with color degradation.
Original Photo with Color Degradation.
© 2019 Gayle Martin. All Rights Reserved.

Sometimes a photo only had minor color degradation, making it easy to correct. I’d simply go into the “Images” menu and select, “Adjustments.” From there I adjusted the brightness and contrast, levels and curves as I normally adjust with all my photos, and it worked well. Again, this was only for images with minor color degradation.

If only they all had minor deterioration. Some images were worse than others. It all depended on the film I was using and the age of the photo. For those images with moderate degradation I again went to the “images” menu and selected, “Auto Color.” Sometimes this worked, but not always, and those photos that had shifted red, like the image above, were particularly problematic. I had two choices. Convert the files to black and white, which sometimes worked, or find a better way restore the color.

After doing a little research, I learned a better way to restore color is to go back into the “Image” menu, select “Adjustments,” this time selecting, “Color Balance.” From there a popup box appears with three adjustment lines for each primary color, cyan, magenta and yellow. The window automatically defaults to “Midtones” in the Tone Balance, and the “Preserve Luminosity Box is checked.

At this point you will have to “eyeball” your way around as there is no “auto” adjustment button. In this instance, I shifted the center arrow in the top bar to the left, toward the cyan. This took out the red distortion and made the colors look more natural. This is also where memory kicks in. It’s been more than thirty years since I took the photo, and I don’t have a print, so, when in doubt, you take your best guess. Once the image looked believable I clicked on OK. From there I went back to the “Image” menu, selected “Adjustments,” and did my usual adjustments of “Brightness/Contrast,” “Levels” and “Curves.” This brightened the image, but not in an extreme way. Once I was satisfied with each I clicked “OK.”

A vintage 35mm image of the Golden Gate Bridge behind a field of flowers.
© 2019 Gayle Martin. All Rights Reserved.

Here is the final image. Again, I’m going by memory here, but back when I lived in San Francisco cloudy, foggy days were common, and the image looks pretty darn close to how I remember those times. And now, thanks to modern technology, and Adobe PhotoShop, this image should finally be preserved in such a way that I no longer have to worry about color degradation.

Now if I could only remember why I walked into the kitchen, life would be perfect.

Gayle Martin

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