Digital Focus: Restoring Faded Photos

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For 150 years, film reigned supreme. But today our photo archives are in danger of being lost forever as prints fade and the emulsion on slides and negatives dry out and deteriorate. If you want to be able to pass your photos (and your parent's photos and their parent's photos) on to future generations, you'll have to do it digitally.

Last week we talked about how to get the best results when scanning old photos. This week let's discuss how to restore those aging photos.

Touching Up in the Scanner

In recent years scanners have come with built-in color restoration features. For example, I recently had the chance to try out Epson's $150 Perfection 3590 Photo. The scanner has a "color restoration" check box on its software's setup window. Make sure it's checked before you scan, and the scanner automatically restores full, vivid colors to faded photos.

This function works amazingly well, with no fiddling necessary. For example, compare two pictures; one was scanned without any adjustments, the other with the color restoration feature enabled.

Touching Up on the PC

If you have color restoration software built into your scanner, you're probably done; just scan your photos with the feature enabled, save the files, and enjoy the fact that you've preserved your family heirlooms.

If your scanner lacks built-in color restoration, however, there are some things you can do on the PC.

Unfortunately, color casts caused by age are extremely difficult to correct using standard adjustments in a program like Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop. I'd say that you're better off not even trying. Instead, get a specialized program that's designed to fix color in scanned photos. The best of the best is Kodak's Digital ROC Photoshop plug-in filter, which you can download from the company's Austin Development Center.

There are two versions: a $50 standard edition and a $100 professional version that has extra manual adjustment options. In my experience, the less-expensive version is perfectly adequate for most photos.

Digital ROC works with most popular photo editing programs, including Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop Elements. To use the filter, first install it, then make sure that your image editing program knows where to find it. I'll use Paint Shop Pro to describe the process.

Open your scanned photo in Paint Shop Pro. Next, choose File, Preferences, File Locations and click Add. Then navigate to the folder that Digital ROC was installed into (probably C:\Program Files\Kodak) and click OK. Close the File Locations dialog box.

Next, choose Effects, Plugins, Kodak, Kodak Digital ROC. If you like the results, click OK to accept the changes. Even the default settings can improve an old photo.

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