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Need help removing blotchy stains from B&W photo

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  • Need help removing blotchy stains from B&W photo

    I've been searching the web (including newsgroup archives) for the past two days looking for tips on how to do this. I finally got ahold of an old Adobe tutorial, but unfortunately, the technique is for color photos and I couldn't figure out how to make it work for B&W.

    Anyway, here's my problem:

    I have an old (25 years) B&W photo which has blotchy yellow-brown stains on over half of the photo. The stains are irregular in intensity, so it's not as simple as repairing a color cast. Making the photo grayscale only serves to make the stains dark gray. I've tried looking at the different channels, but the stains exist on all of them (to a lesser extent on Red in RGB, but noticable nonetheless. CMYK and Lab don't seem to be much better - unless I'm missing something, which is entirely possible.) Is there some trick to removing these stains other than painstakingly rubberstamping?

    Should I be fixing this in the scanning process? If so, how? (I can
    get ahold of the original again if I need to.)

    I've posted a copy of the photo to so that you can see what I have to work with.

    I'm fairly new at this and as always have picked a tough project to start with. (Actually, I didn't pick it - someone requested that I do it - within a week.) Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks, Jeanie
    Last edited by jeaniesa; 08-24-2001, 05:15 PM.

  • #2
    hi jeanie!

    wow! those aren't dolls on the floor, are they! wow. there must be quite a story with that picture.

    i am eager to see what the pros will suggest to you, because i have had several similarly damaged and, indeed,
    painstakingly rubberstamping
    is most often how i've worked with it, that and just selecting as big of a hunk as tolerable and drag it over to cover, seems like there was a stain in the upper right area that would work for; and when you find a piece to select and drag, ctrl(cmd)j it to its own layer and use screen blend mode to make it lighter, adjusting the opacity as needed. or if it needs to be darker, use multiply blend mode the same way.

    i also have drawn selections around stains and tried to manipulate them in selective color; usually adjusting the neutral would affect it the most; but that was before i knew about layer blending modes.

    none of the above is really fast and easy, imho.


    • #3
      Hi Jeaniesa

      Looks like you got a real mess on your hands. No rescanning it won't do any good in removing the stains. Since they are physically on the photo to begin with, the scanner will see that and so will you when your scan is done.

      There may be a better way than what I'm about to suggest. God knows I am far from an authority on the subject. I know you said you went to greyscale with it but they were just dark and light blobs. As far as I can see that may be your best way of dealing with this. I would duplicate the image and keep the original in a small window to use as a comparison of where the blobs are. Then desaturate the copy. And then painstakingly use the dodge and burn tools at very low opacity to even out the blobs. Go carefully as these tools are easy to overdo.

      Since there is so much staining you can't even clone a clean area to a messy one. I notice the stains are not near as visible in greyscale or desaturate as they are in color. I would think that would be the best way to deal with it. I can't see how this could be any less of a painstaking tedious task. Hopefully someone else can.

      Or you could ask Doug to post it as a challenge. Marni did with her wedding photos and got alot of great results and ideas to help her fix her wedding photos. We all learn that way.



      • #4
        No, those aren't dolls! ;-)

        The picture was taken in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam-American war during Operation Babylift (when thousands of orphans were airlifted out of Saigon to the US, Australia, etc.) The van was being loaded with as many babies as would fit on the floor for transport from the orphanage to the airport. The heat index was well over 100 degrees and quick transport was necessary or the babies would become dehydrated. The woman (now a friend of mine) is indicating that there is room for two more babies before they would close the door to the van and head for the airport.

        Thanks for your reply, Kathleen. At least I know I haven't been missing something obvious in terms of what needs to be done to improve the photo. I've got the patience and perseverence to work on it, because I know how important this photo is to my friend. (There aren't many pictures of this particular period of history and I'm working on restoring and archiving the ones that she has.)

        DJ, I played around with the photo last night and realized that my best place to start was on the red channel (in RGB). That makes it greyscale and lightens the stains just slightly - but enough to make it seem "doable" to me. ;-) I'll play around with dodge and burn to see what I can do with it.

        Doug already offered to put it up as a challenge (I had posted to and he pointed me to this website - what a GREAT resource! - and suggested I might want to submit it as a challenge.) Not sure of the "rules" of the challenges though - can I have started working on the problem already and still submit it as a challenge? Doug?



        • #5
          I could post it as a Challenge, but we already have two this week, and you said you needed it finished this week.

          I took it into PS and looked at the individual color channels. The red looks almost normal. Split the channels and half the work is done.

          Dodge tool set to 'midtones' and 5% clears up a lot of the remainder (small soft brush, lots of strokes). Copy and paste (3 pixel feather) some of the cleaner areas onto the edges of the worst stains.

          It seems to look better with a non-'S' curve, long toe (like a reversed italic 'J').

          Any more tips for Jeanie?
          Learn by teaching
          Take responsibility for learning


          • #6
            Doug wrote:
            > I could post it as a Challenge, but we already have two this
            > week, and you said you needed it finished this week.

            Yes, I do need it this week, so I guess a Challenge won't work. However, I'll have plenty of other "challenges" with other pictures from this same timeframe (not B&W, but challenging nonetheless. So, all is not lost. ;-)

            > It seems to look better with a non-'S' curve, long toe (like a
            > reversed italic 'J').

            I hate to seem ignorant (I really do use curves all the time), but I'm confused by your description. When you say a "reversed italic J", do you mean flipped upside down (and mirrored) so that the curve of the bottom of the J is actually on top? (Experimenting with it, I think that's what you mean - just want to make sure.)




            • #7
              I love any and all Challenge suggestions, but send a lowrez version first.

              As for the "J", I knew when I typed it in that it would just confuse things

              I meant just like a "J", don't know why I said 'reversed' (in case no one mentioned it today, I'm getting old)
              Learn by teaching
              Take responsibility for learning


              • #8
                I'm back - feedback appreciated

                Well, it's almost a week later and I'm ready for feedback on my work. I'm sure you remember the yellowish-brown stained photo of the babies on the floor of a van from the orphan airlift at the end of the VN war. I did my best to restore it - you can see my results at:


                Due to the schedule of the printer my friend has chosen to do her postcards, I won't be able to incorporate feedback into the final version of the postcards. However, my friend would also like to make a 35mm slide and perhaps some prints which aren't as time critical. So, if any of you see anything that can be improved, I'd be most appreciative for the feedback!

                Last edited by jeaniesa; 08-24-2001, 05:17 PM.


                • #9
                  Excellent Job!!!


                  WoW Great job of restoring that one. What a mess you had on your hands but you can be very proud of your hard work. Let us know what your friend thought of the clean up you did on this. I bet she was speachless with the results. A big thumbs up on this one.


                  • #10
                    Hi Jeanie,

                    Excellent job! Please remember that I often offer feedback even though I am not the best qualified. The one thing that I think might improve it would be if you added a little noise under the window on the right side of the photo. That's getting pretty nitpicky though. I only wish I could do a job like that.



                    • #11
                      You guys are great - such quick feedback!

                      Debbie, yes my friend was amazed at what I was able to do. (So was I, quite frankly! ;-) I have to admit that I "cheated" a little. I got ahold of the original and "on a whim" rescanned the photo with extremely high saturation. ( This created a photo that had almost neon yellow stains - but it also created a red channel that was cleaner than if I had scanned with normal saturation. So, I was able to start with that red channel which helped immensely!

                      Also, someone on the newsgroup had suggested that I created an empty layer above the original, turn on "use all layers" in the clone tool, set the layer blending mode to lighten, and then clone into that layer. (I took that a step further and created a similar layer with a darken blending mode.) That really helped with the cleanup work!

                      Ed, I agree with your assessment. Good eye! Fairly easy to fix, so perhaps I can do that before I burn the CD tonight. ;-)

                      Thanks, Jeanie
                      Last edited by jeaniesa; 08-24-2001, 05:20 PM.


                      • #12

                        i agree with all - great job. noise seems good idea to me too.

                        ask your friend if she remembers what she was saying, seemed to have very definite to urgent quality about it. wonder if she knows what became of any of the babies.


                        • #13
                          Thanks, Kathleen.

                          I don't know that my friend remembers exactly what she was saying, but she is indicating that there is room for two more babies. Definitely an urgent situation as they had to get to the airport before the plane took off. All of the babies in the photo were on their way to the U.S. to be adopted. I don't know if she remembers each one by name, as she had helped "make up" names and birthdates of over a hundred babies the night before. (Required info that would allow babies to leave, but most babies were abandoned, so lots of info had to be made up.) I don't know if all of the babies in this photo made it all the way to the US. Unfortunately, there were some babies who died from heat and/or dehydration before they ever got on the plane. However, the ones who did make it are now adults and they all know which plane the arrived on. There have been a couple of reunions of the adult adoptees in the last year or two and so my friend has been able to reconnect with many of them.



                          • #14
                            Noise added

                            OK, Ed. Took me longer than I thought, but finally found that the "film grain" filter worked well. Did I make it too dark? (I was having trouble blending it all.) The newest version -

                            I also tried giving the photo a slight tone (rather than just grayscale). I used Pantone 727 along with black in duotone mode. Results are at:

                            Thanks, Jeanie
                            Last edited by jeaniesa; 08-24-2001, 05:26 PM.


                            • #15
                              that did the trick jeanie. i'll have to remember that. film grain.

                              thanks for the story. an awesome thing to have been a part of.


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