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Thread started 17 Dec 2016 (Saturday) 11:07
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Problems restoring color in scans of old negatives

 
Archibald
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Dec 17, 2016 11:07 |  #1

I've been scanning old color negatives, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s. Many are coming up real good. However, there are quite a few that show problems with the colors. Typically, the issue is that the scan will show bluish highlights. These pics look really awful. By bluish, I mean cyan. The colors can't be corrected simply by adding red, because that affects all the other tones too.

I've had some success in improving the colors by using Split Toning in Lightroom. This allows me to add red to the highlights, balanced with cyan as necessary in the medium and darker tones. However, it can take a lot of trial and error to get something that looks reasonable. And it seems every photo is different, meaning I have to experiment anew with each.

There are only a few scraps of info on the Web on color shifts in old photographic materials. Several sources suggest that the cyan dye tends to be the least stable. But I haven't found anything very useful on the systematic restoration the colors of scanned negatives.

Some of this no doubt applies to slides too. Slides also show color shifts. But the dyes in slides will vary by the slide chemistry (Kodachrome vs Ektachrome), and may differ from negative dyes too.

I suppose the ultimate way to fix colors would involve adjustment of the individual color curves in Photoshop. I don't use PS, but might have to start. -? Anyway, I think it might be hard to figure out how to do good and consistent corrections from scratch. It would be nice to know about the principles, and some general rules.

So I'm asking if anyone has experience in this, or knows of links to resources.


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Wilt
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Post edited over 2 years ago by Wilt. (4 edits in all)
     
Dec 17, 2016 11:11 |  #2

Odd, I have scanned family Kodacolor negs from the early 1960s and encountered no major color shifts of any type. Following all scanned on a flatbed and uncorrected for color.

This lat afternoon Kodacolor shot from 1962...

IMAGE: http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i63/wiltonw/POTN%202013%20Post%20Mar1/negscan_0001s_zpsfcfdd365.jpg

This Kodacolor from 1964...
IMAGE: http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i63/wiltonw/POTN%202013%20Post%20Mar1/1964-2_zpstuaar9ky.jpg

This shot Kodacolor from 1981...
IMAGE: http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i63/wiltonw/POTN%202013%20Post%20Mar1/Tahiti%20gals_zps4all0tir.jpg


Prints, even from 40 years ago, have exhibited significant shifts...
IMAGE: http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i63/wiltonw/weddingphoto.jpg

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Dec 17, 2016 11:34 |  #3

OK, here is an example of what I'm observing. On the left is an uncorrected scan of a Kodacolor neg (from 1983). It shows (to my eye) a shift to cyan in the highlights. On the right is my attempt to fix the color seesawing, using Split Toning in LR.


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Dec 17, 2016 13:58 |  #4

So in the enusing years, just how have you stored your negs?...


  1. what kind of sleeves (paper, polyethylene, PVC) for negs
  2. what kind of container (what material) for sleeved negs
  3. what kind of larger container (what material) to hold #2 (if applicable)
  4. generally describe environmental conditions of storage area

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Dec 17, 2016 14:29 |  #5

Wilt wrote in post #18215882 (external link)
So in the enusing years, just how have you stored your negs?...


  1. what kind of sleeves (paper, polyethylene, PVC) for negs
  2. what kind of container (what material) for sleeved negs
  3. what kind of larger container (what material) to hold #2 (if applicable)
  4. generally describe environmental conditions of storage area

Ah, you suspect storage conditions.

Negs were kept in polyethylene sleeves in a white envelop, and these envelops were stored together in acid-free cardboard boxes, in dry, dark, coolish conditions.

The color deterioration I'm observing in some negs is due to loss of cyan dye. This is called thermal or dark fading. The factors that affect the rate of fading are mainly dye chemistry, temperature, humidity and time.

The color issues are more noticeable in some negs than others. That suggests variability in aging from frame to frame, but I suspect that is an illusion. The apparent color fidelity will also depend on the color content of the photo. A slight loss of cyan dye will show obvious problems in images with subtle colors, but be hardly noticeable or not noticeable at all in brightly colored ones.

I just figured out how to adjust color curves in Lightroom. (After 8 years of LR. :!: ) Breakthrough! I believe that curves hold the key to fixing these color issues.


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Dec 17, 2016 14:39 as a reply to  @ Wilt's post |  #6

In your examples, I don't really see any obvious signs of cyan highlights.


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Dec 17, 2016 15:29 |  #7

Archibald,

I wasn't suspecting storage conditions, but I wanted to rule out all possibilities of contributing factors. The only potential contributor is the inclusion of the negs in sleeves (polyethylene, good!) in paper envelopes. Wood and wood derivatives have long been on the potential contributor list for dye deterioration causes. Prior to the mid-1980s, Cyan was particularly unstable, so the film companies improved the rate of cyan fade. Your shift toward cyan might be indicative if the cyan dyes fading in the neg, allowing a stronger shift toward cyan in the scan(???) or would cyan dye fade in the negative shift the print toward red???
OTOH, my scan of 1964 neg exhibits no such shift in the cyan-red axis, as is true of the 1981 neg -- both before cyan dye improvements -- and came out perfectly neutral. Evidence that 'more prone' does not always materialize.


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Dec 19, 2016 11:50 |  #8

I might be getting the hang of this. The color problems in some old negatives need to be fixed using color curves. The curves in the scanning software can be useful, as well as the curves in Lightroom. There don't seem to be any hard and fast rules. Each neg or small batch of negs needs its own treatment.

Here is a before and after. The neg was from 1980. This picture had subtle colors and the initial scan looks awful. The highlights have a yellow shift, and there is blue or magenta in the shadows.

Without curves:


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Dec 19, 2016 12:59 |  #9

Archibald,
If you have a negative which you have scanned with a color shift, which you can part with permanently, you could mail it to me and I can try to scan it, to see if is 'process' and not a shift of color neg dyes!

While I would actually return the neg after the test, I suggest sending one that you can part with, in case something happens in transit.

Send PM with your address, and I will reply with PM with my own address, if you want to do this test.


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Dec 19, 2016 13:39 |  #10

Wilt wrote in post #18217694 (external link)
Archibald,
If you have a negative which you have scanned with a color shift, which you can part with permanently, you could mail it to me and I can try to scan it, to see if is 'process' and not a shift of color neg dyes!

While I would actually return the neg after the test, I suggest sending one that you can part with, in case something happens in transit.

Send PM with your address, and I will reply with PM with my own address, if you want to do this test.

Thanks for the offer, Wilt. Let me think about it.

If I understand correctly, you want to rule out a possible problem with the scanner. I have three scanners here, plus a couple of DSLRs that could do photocopying, so I should do a check with these first. I doubt that the scanner is introducing skews in the curves, but it is worthwhile to confirm.


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Dec 19, 2016 13:45 as a reply to  @ Archibald's post |  #11

Archibald,

Oh, was unaware that you have at your disposal multiple scanners. Yes, the point of my test is to rule out 'process' differences...but that is BOTH the hardware used, AND the software used. So unless you have different software to use as well, doing scans on different hardware but with the same software will not entirely rule out the software component as the villain. Ergo, sending me the neg rules out the hardware+software combo...you have already seen two results using negs from before the mid-1980s cyan dye change, yet they both are neutral.


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Dec 19, 2016 14:03 |  #12

As an FYI - attached are two renderings based on your uncorrected image above. First image is Photoshop - auto color but no additional contrast (auto layer set to color blend mode). Second image is auto color with the associated boost in contrast from the auto color operation.

If you do this operation (auto color) as part of a non-destructive curves adjustment, you have choices as to how the contrast is handled relative to the color.

I don't know if this gets you any closer to what you want in the end.

kirk


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Dec 19, 2016 14:15 |  #13

kirkt wrote in post #18217746 (external link)
As an FYI - attached are two renderings based on your uncorrected image above. First image is Photoshop - auto color but no additional contrast (auto layer set to color blend mode). Second image is auto color with the associated boost in contrast from the auto color operation.

If you do this operation (auto color) as part of a non-destructive curves adjustment, you have choices as to how the contrast is handled relative to the color.

I don't know if this gets you any closer to what you want in the end.

kirk
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Thanks, Kirk. Your examples are improvements from the original, and it seems they were easy to do in PS. The last pic looks pretty good. Yet I still see Y-B seesawing. It is a tough shot to get right because the colors are mostly so neutral.

The solution definitely is in curves. Others on the web have found this too.


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Dec 19, 2016 14:37 |  #14

Archibald wrote in post #18217756 (external link)
Thanks, Kirk. Your examples are improvements from the original, and it seems they were easy to do in PS. The last pic looks pretty good. Yet I still see Y-B seesawing. It is a tough shot to get right because the colors are mostly so neutral.

The solution definitely is in curves. Others on the web have found this too.


Yes - you can start with straight-line curve adjustments to get neutrality in the midtones (like a WB adjustment) and then deviate from there into the shadow and highlights to correct specific tonal range casts.

kirk


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