This photo is one of my favorites.  Ever.  The kids are my dad and aunt. The photo is all the more special since I lost my dad a few years back, and I’ve been wanting to restore it for a long time.  My aunt has a December birthday, so I’m going to frame it and give it to her as a Christmas decoration.

restore ba blog

This tutorial and the accompanying action are not for the faint of heart, or for those who have never used Elements before.  The action will create layers for you, but you will still need a sound understanding of Elements and lots of patience to use it.  Keep reading for details on how to download it at no cost.

Lots of steps are involved and I’ve created a video to capture them all.  I’m not a video tutorial person myself, and I know that some of you would prefer to read as well.  So I’ve written the primary steps below.  Just know that the video has much more detail.  The video also shows you how to create the necessary layers yourself, rather than using the action to create them.

restore video

Start by scanning the photo and opening it in Photoshop Elements.  I use the Epson Workforce 3520 to print and scan, and I love it:restore epson

  • Straighten and crop the photo, if necessary.
  • Most old photos are faded and lacking in contrast, plus they have the yellow/sepia tint that you see in this one.  This an easy fix for Levels.  Use the white and black eyedroppers to set the black and white points in your image and reduce the layer’s opacity if needed.
  • Next, add a new, blank layer and use the Spot Healing and Clone Stamp tools to remove spots, tears and wrinkles.  You might need to turn the Levels layer off – especially with the Clone tool, Levels can skew colors and brightness.
  • Dodge and burn to highlight or de-emphasize key areas of the photo.
  • Add color.  This is where you need flexible methods involving layer masking and selection tools.  I used lots of Solid Color adjustment layers to add the color back to the stockings.  Note that I’m not restoring color that was faint in the photo – I really have no idea what color those stockings were.
  • For the areas that were relatively well-defined, like the Santa on the white stocking, I used the Magic Wand tool to select each part of his coat.  I then added a red Solid Color adjustment layer and changed the blend mode to Color.  The Color blend mode is great because it reveals underlying texture and light patterns through the photo.  The Normal blend mode results in an opaque, paint-like look.
  • The green stocking worked about the same as the Santa. It took more finessing of the selection created by the Magic Wand, however.
  • The red stocking was harder to get a good selection on, because the Magic Wand kept on picking up areas of the wall behind.  So, I used the marquee tool to select a small rectangle around that stocking, and copied and pasted it onto a new layer.  Using the Magic Wand on this new layer made the selection simpler – I could easily remove what didn’t belong in the selection.  The video will help a lot with this technique.
  • Do you see how the wreath on the green stocking is much lighter than the green on the stocking itself  Look back at the original – see how much contrast there is between the wreath and its background?  It’s harder to get good color on these lighter areas.  The Color blend mode doesn’t produce great saturation.  For many of the lighter areas, I used the Normal blend mode at a reduced opacity.

Free Action for Photoshop Elements:  Old Photo Restore

Before you download this free action, there is one very important thing I need to tell you. If you are looking for a one click fix for restoring a photo like I did above, you ain’t gonna find it, as we say in Texas.

Using this action takes work.  You need to understand layer masks and selection tools, among many other things.  The action will create the layers for you, so that you don’t have to figure out which to create when.  You will still need to dial in settings for Levels, choose colors and paint on layer masks.  If you aren’t familiar with Elements, you’ll need to watch the video above, at the very minimum, in order to use the action.

Ok.  Now that the big ole disclaimer is out of the way, how do you get the free action?  If you already subscribe to my newsletter, there is a link to download it in the right column of the newsletter you should receive today, Friday, December 13, 2013.  You will receive it sometime this morning.  Please note that the action is not included in the single article RSS emails that you receive each time I publish a post.  The action is only available in the weekly newsletter that contains multiple articles.

What if you aren’t a subscriber?  Subscribe here, and you will receive an email with a link to download all of my free actions, including this one, after you confirm your subscription.

If you are a subscriber and can’t find today’s newsletter, you can unsubscribe and resubscribe.  Make sure to check your spam folder or Gmails promotions tab.