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Trying to restore some 25-year-old color negatives

R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 09:30 p.m.

My mother has a lot of Kodacolor II negatives from the late '70s to the early '80s. I've scanned many of them with my CanoScan FS4000 and the results have been very disappointing. The negs appear to be faded, which results in a very dark image when scanned. Additionally, the areas of the image that should be dark (shadow areas) tend to be greenish.

I'll post an example so you can see what I'm talking about. This was actually the best of the bunch. Most of them came out much darker and the colors were much more messed up.

Basically, is there anything I can do in Photoshop to fix these? I've tried playing with brightness, contrast, and color balance... are there are things I should be doing?

Kodacolor II negative, circa July 04 1981


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R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 09:48 p.m.

Here are a few more examples.

Kodacolor II, 1981

R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 09:49 p.m.

more examples


Kodacolor II, 1981

R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 09:50 p.m.

another example


Kodacolor II, 1981

R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 09:50 p.m.

last one


Kodacolor II, 1981

Donald Qualls , Apr 10, 2004; 10:23 p.m.

There are two things that might be going on here. One is that the images may have faded in twenty-plus years of non-ideal storage -- a distinct possibility if they've been in an attic or somewhere else that gets very hot. The other, and IMO more likely, is that the film might have been underexposed to begin with, which with most C-41 films tends to produce a greenish cast (in my experience, anyway).

You should be able to add some magenta color correction in Photoshop (not the "hue" sliders, but a function that works like the color correction filters used in printing color negatives; I can do this in the GIMP, which is freeware, so Photoshop ought to be able to do it as well), and might also be able to tweak your scanner settings to get more from the scan initially; alternately, you might have to settle for adjusting the levels or curves for "value" in Photoshop to stretch the contrast enough to make the images look reasonably normal -- in effect, push processing in the computer, and with the same effect of losing highlights and shadows in order to make midtones appear correct.

Another trick you might try is sandwiching a piece of fixed-out black and white film with the negatives to act as a neutral filter; that will tend to lighten up the reversed scan without changing the color balance; it won't extend the contrast of a thin negative, but it might make it easier to adjust the color balance.

B G , Apr 10, 2004; 10:52 p.m.


There's lots you can do to improve these. But you must learn to use the levels and curves controls. The ones you've used are much more difficult to use.

That said, I can't give a lesson in such a short post, but you should get a good book about photoshop and learn to use these controls. I like "Real World Photoshop" myself, though it might be a little itimidating to a complete novice.

I did spend a couple minutes to show some examples though...


example one

B G , Apr 10, 2004; 10:53 p.m.

and another...

example 2

R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 11:09 p.m.

Donald wrote:

"The other, and IMO more likely, is that the film might have been underexposed to begin with, which with most C-41 films tends to produce a greenish cast (in my experience, anyway)."

That's what I thought at first. But my mother was (is) pretty good photographer, and I'm pretty sure she was using an auto-exposure camera when these pictures were taken. In fact, when I asked my mother about her picture-taking in those days, she said that she usually overexposed print film by half a stop. With that in mind, I think the problem is most likely that the negs have not withstood the test of time... which is quite disappointing, since they were kept in "archival" plastic sleeves in a cool, dry, dark place.

At any rate, thanks for the suggestions. I'll look into getting a good Photoshop book.

And I hope that today's color neg films are more stable than the ones from the late '70s and early '80s!

R.T. Dowling , Apr 10, 2004; 11:14 p.m.

It's times like this when I do have some appreciation for Kodachrome. ;-)

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