Help! My Old Colour Photo has Turned Pink – 5 Minute Digital Fix
by Gary Wilkinson
lmost all of us will have seen this particular photographic problem, namely, your old colour photographs appear to have taken on an overall pink or blue tint.
This is primarily due to the chemicals within the various layers of the photographic paper starting to breakdown, often due to age, and the way that the photographs have been stored.
In many cases it is due to reactants in the environment (remember acid rain?) causing a chemical reaction which results in the fading of certain colour pigments in the photo.
Pink and blue colour shifts are commonplace.
Luckily, these colour shifts can be easily corrected, using your favourite image manipulation software, in such a way as to be able to produce an acceptable corrected image.
In the example image on our web-site the "before" image of the house clearly shows a colour shift to pink.
Before we start using any of the image manipulation software tools we first need to access the photograph in question and determine the steps we need to take.
What do you know about the photograph in question?
Well ... it's a house with a front lawn of grass, a few bushes and flowers, what appears to be a blue rubbish or compost bin, and some (right now) pink edged clouds.
What else ... ?
If you know the actual house, as I do (it is my sister's), I can tell you the window frames are painted white/cream and the front lawn is always in good condition, lush and a deep green. The bricks are a sandstone colour and because this house is in the North of England it is fair to say that the colour of the sky when the photo was taken would most probably have been a bit grey/white and overcast.
The point of this exercise is to use "your mind's eye" to try establish what the original photograph would have looked like and the end result you want to match as closely as possible.
Basic Correction Method
The Basic Correction method described here can restore colour faded or tinted photos and eliminate almost all of a particular colour cast.
The simplicity of the Basic correction method is that it only uses one command from Adobe Photoshop CS, namely the Levels command.
The "After" image on our web-site does still have a slight pink edge to the clouds, but the final image is more than acceptable for printing.
The source of the your problematic image may have come from a scanned negative, scanned print or digital camera image all converted to an image format (most probably .JPG pronounced “jaypeg”) that can be opened in your image manipulation software.
I will be using Adobe Photoshop CS, but almost all other image manipulation software packages have similar tools so the method described should be repeatable with your own software package.
Step – 1
Select the Levels command in Photoshop using Image->Adjustments->Levels.
A pop-up window will appear showing what appears to be a "mountain range" which is correctly called a histogram.
Below the histogram you will notice small black, grey and white arrow sliders.
What does the Levels Histogram tell us about the photo?
Well ... the black arrow to the left hand side is well away from the "mountain range" telling us that the photo contains no (or very little) pure blacks.
Similarly, the white arrow on the far right tells us there is no (or very little) pure whites in the photo.
We already know this because the white areas of the photo as we perceived the original to be (i.e. the clouds and window frames) have the pink cast to them.
Also notice in the bottom right hand corner of the pop-up Levels window there are three "eye-dropper" buttons, one filled with black, one with grey and one with white.
These can be used to "sample" your photo and pick out where it is perceived the original black, grey and white areas of the photo are. These eye-droppers are what we will use in the basic correction of the photo.
Which one to use I hear you ask? Well it depends on the photo. I tend to favour using the grey eye-dropper first since I can usually evaluate a photo and find a mid grey part to sample from.
If your photo has a definite area of pure black or pure white then try the corresponding eye-droppers.
Remember one of the best tools to be using here will still be your eyes.
In our example image on our web-site I am going to use the grey eye-dropper and sample the cloud just above and to the left of the house roof-line because I think in the original this would have been a mid grey in colour.
Step – 2
Click on the middle eye-dropper button and then moving the mouse cursor to the photo, left click on the bottom side of the cloud.
The histogram shape changed and you will notice that most of the pink colour cast has disappeared.
The clouds still have a tinge of pink to them, but on the whole the photo is starting to look like I think it should.
Overall though, the photo now looks a little flat.
Step – 3
Let's have another look at the histogram.
Notice the black and white arrows still tend to be at the far left and right of the "mountain range".
Left Click and hold on the black arrow and drag towards the start of the "mountain range" and watch the photo.
Repeat this for the white arrow on the right hand side.
The resulting photo has now been given a bit of a boost in contrast and more closely resembles what I think the original photo would have looked like.
In many cases, the technique of using just the Levels histogram and eye-droppers can produce an acceptable corrected image.
There is still a slight amount of pink in the bottom of the clouds of our example image, but the aim of the exercise was for a basic correction method using just one tool from Photoshop CS.
Less than five minutes of digital image manipulation to produce an acceptable corrected image.
If you find the steps being taken are a little hard to understand in this text based article, you can click on the link at the end of this article to see the same method explained on our website with the aid of example graphical images.