Tutorial: Sunset Restoration

Today I want to show you how I breathed new life into one of my favorite photos of all time.

In September of 1998 I took this picture with my old point and shoot film camera:

As you can see, this sunset was nothing short of spectacular. The picture isn’t great because I carefully planned the composition or waited for the perfect moment of lighting. Honestly, all I did was push the shutter button. And yet, I reaped the rewards of county fair 4-H ribbons, state fair exhibition and 4-H ribbons, and exhibition in the Iowa State Fair Cultural Building. However, I took this picture when I was 11, and I’ve learned some things since then that I think will make this picture better. There are some obvious issues, and there are some less obvious issues (like fading from hanging on my bedroom wall for years). I hope you can use these instructions to perhaps revamp one of your old photos (film or digital).

After I removed the picture from its mat board frame and scanned it into my computer, I opened it in Photoshop CS3.

Step 1: Adjust Levels [Image>Adjustments>Levels]

Shadows slider moved right to 27 which made blacks blacker and helped reverse the fading of the print

Highlights slider moved left to 233 which brightened the yellow hues

Midtones slider kept at 1 to preserve the integrity of the photo, but I discovered that moving the slider to the right made the sky much more dramatic and red

Step 2: Adjust Color Balance [Image>Adjustments>Color Balance]

I had a lot of freedom to play around with these sunset colors by using Photo Filters or Color Balance, and I experimented for a while but didn’t make a drastic change.

-Make sure the box, Preserve Luminosity, is checked

-For the midtones, I did +9 to red, +54 to blue, -12 to magenta

For the shadows, I only did +10 to blue

These changes resulted in darker, more fiery clouds with more contrast, and increasing the blues really brought out the unusual purple hues:

Step 3: Rotate and Crop

It’s important that if your photo needs to be rotated or leveled that you do that before you crop. If you try to crop, then rotate, you may lose more of the composition than you want. I’d never noticed it before, but I realized I needed to rotate counter clockwise just a smidgen. [Image>Rotate Canvas>Arbitrary]

I didn’t want to lose too much of the sky in my crop, but I wanted to eliminate some of the silhouetted images on the ground and the power line in the top right of the picture. When photographers compose or crop a picture, we usually think about the Rule of Thirds. If you want to learn more about this click here: http://www.digital-photography-school.com/rule-of-thirds

To help me visualize the thirds in my photo, I placed some ruler guides over it creating 9 equally-sized boxes. (To use ruler guides, just click and drag them from the rulers on the top and left of the canvas. When you’re done, drag them back or hide them by using [Ctrl][;]) Cropping can be used to better apply the Rule of Thirds to photos and to remove elements in the photo you don’t like–but feel free to break the rule. It does say, Picture Making and Rule Breaking at the top of the page! Just know why you’re breaking the rules when you do.

I decided to crop out the power line, as well as the object on the far left of the horizon, and the power pole on the right–which also took care of the reflecting 911 sign. By doing this, the barn–which is not the focal point but a point of reference (the sky is the focus)–moved into the lower right intersection of thirds:

Step 4: Remove Imperfections

Because this was an original print that I scanned, there are some scratches, specs and dust particles–PLUS THAT BIG UGLY DATE! These are relatively simple fixes. You can use the clone stamp tool or the paintbrush to fix small things such as these. I could have even used the clone stamp to get rid of the power line. In this case, it was easiest to sweep a big black paintbrush over the bottom to get rid of the date, etc. Then I zoomed in on areas of the sky, carefully cloning a nearby area to replace scratches and specs.

Step 5: Soften

I was still bothered by some graininess in the sky, so I used the blur tool to soften and smooth select areas.

Step 6: Optional Burnt Edges

I like the look of burnt edges or vignetting on most photos, which slightly darkens the edge. I think it provides a finished, professional look, but that’s just my personal preference.

step 6 FINISH web copy

Those are some basic instructions for ya. I’m really glad I finally got around to scanning and editing this photo and now I love it even more!


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