our old photos

I’m working on a project while I’m visiting home – scanning all of my family photos and re-sticking them into their albums where the old tape has lost its stickiness. I can have my own album of childhood and family memories and my family can be assured that their old images are now backed up in case of disaster. (The scanning is a bit of a drag, but I got 3 albums, about 250 pages, done in an afternoon and evening. There may be more albums and photos to do, but I have the 3 main albums of childhood stuff, from the early 70s through to 1991.)

And then the fun part – taking all those funny little square, rounded corner photos from the 1970s and restoring some of the original colors they have lost to the best of my abilities.

The photo labs were doing some crazy things with film printing in the 70s, experimenting with state of the art inks or dyes perhaps. Sadly, their experiments did not hold up well and so many of those photos are now odd colors, and often faded too. Some people’s photos turned sickly green as their red tones degraded over time. In my case the (green and blue?) inks in my family photos degraded long ago (before I can remember) and we are left with strange pink images. Like these:


I took a class called This Old Photo at JessicaSprague.com when I was learning digital scrapbooking in late 2012 and learned some techniques for removing color casts in photos. It’s actually really easy with Photoshop Elements. I believe there are several ways to achieve the same goals, as is generally the case in PSE. You can also click Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color Cast which will apparently remove color casts. I haven’t tried that out yet.

You can also use the Adobe Camera Raw plug in that comes with all editions of Photoshop, which works even on photos in jpeg format. Clicking on the eyedropper tool in this interface and clicking on the photo changes the white balance (by adjusting the temperature and tint). If you click on something that should be white, the whole photo will shift colors to make that white. It’s a handy trick for correcting color casts when your digital camera fails to read the lighting properly. If I didn’t need to rotate my pages and divide the scanned pages into individual images first, I might use this function. But I would have to save my rotated, separated pictures first, then close them, then reopen them and process them one by one using the ACR plug in – I think that would be too much trouble, but maybe it wouldn’t be, especially if the result was more accurate.

(I just ran one of my edited pictures, which was still not quite right, through ACR and by using the white balance tool and increasing the exposure, I got a much better looking image, so I might try out this tool in future edits, either from the beginning, or as a further refinement after the basic editing is done.)

The method I’m using is to work on each color channel manually. By applying a levels adjustment layer to the photo you can adjust each of the color channels to restore the correct balance of colors. As you click on each red, green or blue color channel the histogram will show you where the data is for each color. If the mountains of data are bunched up in the middle it means that you have a lot of mid-tone data for that color but that you’ve lost the highlights and shadows. By moving the upper and lower slider points to where the data begins you rebalance the color.

PSEcolorcorrectWeb You can tell when you have the color back to where it needs to be by using the color picker to test the color of something you know should be white. If the color picker shows you something pale pink or yellowy green you know that you still have a color cast. A corrected photo should have white areas that are neutral/ close to white. (For some reason I can’t seem to do this. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but the color picker isn’t working the way it did in the tutorial video. Maybe I’m not targeting the layer properly or something. So I’m just going by what looks good to me.)

This looks a lot better. But Mum kept that dress and the solid color fabric is peach. So the photo still needs work.

This looks a lot better. But Mum kept that dress and the solid color fabric is peach. So the photo still needs work.

Fixing the color is one of the first edits advised in photo restoration, before working on scratches and dust or faded edges. After I get the color where I want it, I adjust the exposure if necessary. Then I run a dust and scratches filter, which removes a lot of the little flaws, as well as reducing the distracting texture of the photo which the scanner picks up. Then I use the spot healing brush to get rid of any remaining scratches, dust spots or small stains. I haven’t worked on big stains yet, and most of my photos don’t have faded edges or torn corners to fix.


Of course it’s unlikely that these old photos are going to be as good as they when they were first printed. It’s possible they were never printed well in the first place. Or that the photo wasn’t that great! If the photo was shot in a dim room or with flash, you’re never going to get a perfectly exposed, gorgeous portrait. But I think my whole family will be pleased to see our family memories brought back from the pink.

I’m half way through my holiday now. I wrote the draft of this on the plane on the way over and I finally had a free morning to finish it off and post it today. The family has been keeping my busy. I’m going to help my mother with a decluttering project in a minute. She has asked for my help, but she’s just working on tidying it up before she’ll let me see it… (where’s that eye roll smiley when you need it?! LOL) I hope to be able to share some of the photos I’ve taken on this trip very soon.

Thanks for stopping by,


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