Monday, February 29, 2016

Color with Old Photos...

Having had my eyes worked on (previous post) now has me thinking about old photos and adjusting for color.
     There is great variety with what can be found with old photos, The colors fade and change in different ways depending on the chemistry used in the originak photographic process. Usually this is with how well the photographic prints have held up over the years, though too this could relate to the original negatives or color slides (if available). Basically with color photography, longevity (be it with the film or prints) is often not its strong suit. Black and white photography, by comparison, often offered much more stability for aging over course of decades or even centuries.


     The photo above (left) did not hold up that well, which w ass taken in winter of 1978/79. This was not that long ago (though, depending on your age, maybe it was!). It can be disappointing to see personal photos loose their appeal in such a way. With some color adjusting though, some of the original colors can be brought back to life.

     For the above example, this photo is actually about a decade older though the issue is not so much the deterioration of the photo itself but is with the scan, which was limited in tonal range. The original scan (on left) was very pale with limited contrast. Though contrast can be added by expanding the tonal rage, very often this throws off and distorts the colors. Adjusting the colors for hue and also for saturation can bring it back to the way I remember it from when I took the picture in my youth (it was an overcast and rainy day). And rather than try to turn it into something that looks like may have just been shot, some of the "old photo" character is not lost.

     I included this one (above) for several reasons. It was actually photographed in color though so much has been lost, it looks mostly monotone. The color that is found are those that are from its deterioration. Though a lot was tried (from left to right above) the end result is really not that different. The main thing I like about this photo IS its colorization through deterioration, its uneven fading, its distortion of color, etc. This - its aged look - is its appeal.

     And for the above photo (school in Renova, PA) this is from those years when black and white photography was the only option. And even though the photo was scanned only in grays (left) it does not have the look and feel of being an old photo. In this instance, colorization was done to try and have it look more like the original aged print. And note too, with decades old photos very often as they age there is variety with how they become colorized. Some take on yellow and orange colors, others more green, and yet others more violet and dark blues. Variety can also be found within the different tonal ranges within an individual photograph - with lighter tones taking on one color, while dark tones with different colors.
     There is something really enjoyable about old photos, and when scanning and capturing these as digital records, it's nice see the variety that can be found and work on adjustments that can either revive their original glory, or enhance their aged charm.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


This is a notion that I have not thought about in a while. Years ago (or should I say decades) I had looked into what was involved with calibrating computer monitors for color accuracy for sake of optimal conditions for adjusting colors and tones with images. In the end, I had found a workaround that seemed reasonable (without the need to invest in high end equipment). Flashing forward to the current day, it has become very evident to me that there is a very different calibration that could also be considered for the accuracy of what is seen.

     It was a surprise a few months ago to find out that I would need cataract surgery. At the time I had thought this only relates to clarity of focus for what is seen, though now (after having one eye worked on) I realize there is much more to this. Colors are very different. At the moment, and for those few days to come prior to my other eye being worked on, I have the unique opportunity to close one eye, and see the before (with old eye) and then close the opposite eye and see the after (with the "new" eye). The difference between the two is noteworthy.
     For what seems to be years, there has been "discussions" at our house about: is it green or is it blue? We rarely ever agreed. My thought was that these arguments (friendly ones) were related to how much yellow does it take for blue to become green? I now realize that we were actually seeing different things. My eyes were seeing more yellow! This difference on perception should not be a surprise for me. I know we all see things differently (literally). Decades ago I had taken a color test for judging ones accuracy with distinguishing colors. This test was one my father used for evaluating employees and potential employees for work in a dye lab as colorists (within the fabric industry: carpet manufacturing). At the time, I passed this test with "flying colors." (See what I did there?)

This photo was taken because of the post-it note I was wearing for trying to work at the computer by covering one eye. The differences in colors with the two frames within this animation is my attempt at showing what my two different eyes are seeing. 

     I do not think having less than perfect eyes, or less than perfect computer setup, should be a dis-qualifier for anyone. My workaround for the monitors I have used over the years has been to have an example of a good image at hand (on screen) for making comparisons to for the others I am working on for making corrections. Typically this has been for grayscale images (for printing in black only) and often for images that were old in nature (such as old photos for use in books with historical topics). So by way of example, the image for comparing to would be one that was adjusted "by the numbers" for having darkest and most black tones to be around 92-95% (allowing for dot gain on the press which would make these areas darker once printed); highlights and white areas to be no less than 3-6% gray (because anything less would not print); and for having midtones to be decreased to a level that may appear light or pale (on screen) though once printed, will be darker (with details found in midtone grays preserved and not plugged up becoming excessively dark). All of this (by the numbers) is contingent on the paper being used or type of press being used for the printing (with some situations needing different target numbers for tones).
     So in the end, it becomes a bit of a judgment call as how to adjust tones, and even under the best situations (for equipment and for eyes) some mental adjustments are being made. What is seen on screen (for how something should look) is being mentally adjusted for being correct - even if it appears a bit pale, light or with less contrast.
     The same could be said for color images. Having a well adjusted image handy - for on-screen comparison - can be helpful while working on color corrections. Also with color, of course we can have printed color swatches for referring to. These are formulated for showing very specific colors with CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta, black) values, and for showing what these color formulas look like once printed on paper.

     For both gray tones (for black only printing) and too for color, it becomes not so much what it looks like beyond your nose (on the screen) but what will it look like once printed to paper.
     Now back to my eyes... I think I may enjoy these days of being able to wink one and then the other to see the before and afters. Maybe there will be some more animated GIFs to create for trying to show the difference, and for providing me with a reminder of what I am currently experiencing. I know at some point my brain will adjust my interpretation of what is seen to create a new "normal" for me - and this will all then become a fuzzy memory!
    Thanks... and enjoy those colors....
For more, see:  
     Tonal Adjustments & Shadows
     Tones: Highlights
     Halftone Grays & Dot Gain
     Elements of Color