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New to Me August: Using Levels to restore photos with color cast

Sat Jul 29, 2017 3:15 pm

In the January New To Me, we worked with old fading photos to see if there was anything left to salvage.
This time let's work with old photos that have that awful red color cast.

When cameras became inexpensive in the 1970's, so did their quality and more importantly, the negative processing.
Too many of these printed photos are losing their original color and only the dominant red is left.

If you have any of these photos, the sooner you work on restoring them digitally, the better.

Scan a few of these and let's see if this method works to restore the color in your photo.

(There are numerous ways to get rid of color cast in Photoshop, this tutorial will concentrate on the Levels method.)

1. Here's the photo that I am using:
New-to-me-Remove-color-cast-before.jpg (67.89 KiB) Viewed 107 times

As you can see the Red has taken over.

2. Add a Levels layer adjustment on top of your photo.

As a rule, I always start the recoloring process with the Levels adjustment. I click on the AUTO option to tell me how much my photo is off in luminous values. I don't always keep the Levels adjustment but more than not, I do and adjust the middle slider to tweak the mid tones.

This time we are not clicking on the AUTO option but going to use the pull down menu and adjust each color individually.

3. Choose Red from the pull down menu since this color is our main objective to correct.
Here are the adjustments to the sliders that worked for this photo. Of course, your slider adjustment will vary with each photo.
Level-Red-adjustment.jpg (35.68 KiB) Viewed 107 times

4. Next choose the Green from the pull down menu and adjust the sliders. Note: green and red are opposites and any adjustment will bring either more green or more red into the correction. Here are the Green adjustments that worked for this photo:
Levels-Green-adjustment.jpg (27.54 KiB) Viewed 107 times

5. Next choose the Blue from the pull down menu and adjust the sliders. Note: Yellow is the opposite of Blue so keep that in mind when moving the sliders. Here are the Blue adjustments that worked for this photo:
Levels-Blue-adjustment.jpg (28.58 KiB) Viewed 107 times

6. Click OK to accept your adjustments. Here's what my photo looks like at this point:
Photo-with-only-Levels-adjustment.jpg (94.05 KiB) Viewed 107 times

7. As you can see there are other adjustments needed to bring back the original colors but at least that awful Red color cast is almost gone.

Add a Hue Sat adjustment layer and click on an area that needs attention. I choose the odd color in the package shadowing.

Note: Once you click on an area in the photo, use the Scrub brush icon in the Hue Sat dialogue box. It will go to the correct color to be adjusted. In my photo it was Cyan.
I wanted Cyan to go away, so I desaturated it. Be careful when applying desat to any color because it will desaturate all that color in your photo. When that is the case, you will need to fill your adjustment layer mask with black and use a soft brush with white and paint over the area you want desaturated.
Hue-Sat-adjustment.jpg (25.04 KiB) Viewed 107 times

7. Time to work on the over brightness in my daughter's face and body. Trouble is she will need more adjusting in her face than in the rest of her.

Add a Curves adjustment layer. Do NOT make any adjustments and click OK.

8. Change the Curves layer mode to Multiply (since we need to darken some areas). And fill the adjustment mask with black.

9. Change the color picker to the default black/white and click on the middle grey.
Color-Picker-medium-grey.jpg (54.22 KiB) Viewed 106 times

10. Use a soft brush and paint in the area that needs the most brightening. If this is not enough brightening, change your color to a lighter shade of grey; if it's too much brightening, change your color to a darker grey.

11. When you are satisfied with the brightest area, change your brush color to a darker grey and paint over the areas that don't need as much brightening. If you look at the Curves layer mask, it may look similar to this:
Curves-layer-mask.jpg (4.96 KiB) Viewed 106 times

12. At this point I still saw too much brightness in my daughter's face that I couldn't quite get with Curves. So I added a Brightness/Contract adjustment layer. While only looking at my area I wanted to darken, I adjusted the brightness and contrast to bring out her facial features. This also lightened the entire photo so once again, I filled the layer mask with black. Using the soft white brush I painted just her face.

This is my finished photo. Granted, not perfect, but for me, it really brought back the memories of what she and the living room used to look like.
I can't do much about that wild yellow carpet or her clothes (God Bless the 70's!) but it's so much better than the Before photo.
New-to-me-Remove-color-cast-before.jpg (67.89 KiB) Viewed 107 times
New-to-Me-Remove-color-cast-final.jpg (95.08 KiB) Viewed 106 times

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