Final B&W Adjustments
When I reached the end of ”Restoring Trudie Ann Part 3,” my photo was clean and minimally presentable. That’s the part of restoring I feel is objective. Getting rid of any blemishes you don’t want, and adjusting tonal range to something that seems reasonable in an old photo, is mostly technical. Taking the image to where I want it to be, including cropping it, adjusting contrast to affect mood, colorizing, even adding my own distressing or a frame to the image, is all subjective. It’s the creative part of restoring an image. You can’t see the original as it was way back when to know what it looked like, so you have a lot of latitude—at least if you’re not trying to be as historically accurate as possible.
I first decided to crop the photo from an oval to a rectangle. I knew that would mean cloning some of the image into the empty space at the bottom of the photo, but between the Clone Stamp, Content Aware Move, and Healing Brush tools, I figured I’d do okay if I was willing to be slow and careful about it.
One of the things I love about restoring images is it often forces me to get very close and figure out just what it is I’m looking at. The dark rocks I thought were next to and behind Trudie Ann turned out upon close examination to be her shoes! What was no doubt the height of fashion in her day looked like old Granny shoes to me, which is all part of realizing your moment in this universe isn’t exactly the be all and end all, or the last word in fashion.
Once I completed cloning into the empty areas at the bottom and cropped the image non-destructively (uncheck Delete Cropped Pixels in the Options bar), so I could return to the original oval if I wished, I created a flattened duplicate for later experimenting with color toning. Knowing that color toning affects the mood of an image, and its contrast has to enhance that mood, I wanted to have a starting version of the B&W that was still relatively flat. I could adjust contrast after I’d set the mood. I then created a stamped visible layer (Cmd/Ctrl-Option/Alt-Shift E), and converted it to a Smart Object.
There are so many ways to affect the values of an image in Photoshop that I often find it difficult to choose which technique to use. Lately I’ve been playing with Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Mask actions, and decided to see if they’d be easy enough to make the fixes I wanted. I felt the backdrop of trees was a bit lame and the brightest areas of it could use a boost. I also thought some of the darks in the image needed to go even darker.
When you Cmd/Ctrl-click on the composite channel in the Channels panel, you automatically load a Luminosity mask; anything you now do will affect every value from middle gray to white, while middle gray to black is protected from being altered. Invert to protect the lights and affect the darks. Luminosity masks are naturally feathered, helping prevent you from making adjustments that have abrupt changes from one value or color to another. Although obvious edits can be a stylistic choice, it does reveal you’ve “Photoshopped” it. TK’s actions create luminosity masks that restrict the values selected in many more ways than the simple all lights versus all darks Luminosity mask you make when you load it from the composite channel.
I chose two luminosity masks that matched the areas where I wanted to change their values, and decided to use Curves for that. The action automatically adds the layer adjustment I choose with the mask in place. Pushing the lights lighter in just a limited area, and the darks a bit darker, again not over half the image, but in a more limited area, I was able to add quite a lot of contrast and depth to the image, and I didn’t have to create those masks. I also wanted to bring back some modeling to the lightest lights in the image, so used yet another luminosity mask. By adding an adjustment layer to a group, even if its the only one in the group, I could “mask the mask” for even more control.
Keeping with my effort to stay in Photoshop for all the restoration, I chose to use Unsharp Mask with the Hiroloam method I learned from Dan Margulis. Hiraloam stands for high radius, low amount, which is the opposite of the normal technique for using Unsharp Mask. Adding it as a Smart Filter, I ended up using Amount 37, Radius 117, and Threshold 8, but your image and your taste in sharpening will determine the values you use. The end effect is very similar to using the popular High Pass method of sharpening, affecting the edges without sharpening noise and grain, but I find I have more control for fine tuning the results.
The last step I took with the B&W version of Trudie Ann was to add a vignette. I wanted more control than I was going to have using the vignette feature in either Lens Correction or Camera Raw, since they both produce ovals, not rectangles, so I went with the old-fashioned method of adding a vignette. On an empty layer, I drew a heavily-feathered marquee just inside the edges, inverted my selection (Cmd/Ctrl-Shift-I), and filled it with black. I now could change the blend mode to Multiply, reduce the opacity, and transform the edges to fit the vignette better. I didn’t like a strong vignette on this image, so I dragged the edges of the rectangle beyond the edges of the photo to leave only a hint of a vignette inside.
I like the B&W version, though I’m still going to see what color-toning will do for it. While I’ve fixed most of problems caused by photos gradually fading into obscurity, it doesn’t attempt to look new, sharper than consumer lenses were at that time, or any less grainy, so I don’t think any significant historical value has been lost. In fact, non-destructive editing means I’ve even preserved the original in all its faded and scratched glory. My layers are still intact and I used Smart Filters and adjustment layers where I could, so if I change my mind and want to alter the values even more, I can do that. But for now, the B&W version of Trudie Ann is finished—if any restoration can ever be called “finished.”