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Eradicating Mold, Mildew, and Fungus

The best way to avoid mold, fungus, and mildew problems is to store your photographs in a humidity-controlled environment with a relative humidity of 65% or less. According to Henry Wilhelm's book, The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs, the problem lies in the fact that "gelatin, the major component of the emulsion of films and prints, is unfortunately an excellent nutrient for fungi." Couple that fact with the reality that fungi spores are everywhere and can thrive even in the coldest environments (think of the bottom drawer of your refrigerator) and you have a mold-growing time-bomb on your hands. It gets even worse—insects are attracted to fungus, and they're more than happy to munch on your valuable photographs too.

Working with the Clone Stamp Tool

At the first sign of a fungus attack, clean the film with a cotton swab and Kodak Film Cleaner. Then scan in the film and use the following techniques to rid the world of this evil. Removing mold from a print should be done only by a professional photo conservator. Do not try to wash, clean, or treat original prints unless you can live with the consequences that anything you do to the original print might actually damage the paper more than the mold already has. Figure 5.17 and Figure 5.18 show a before and after that I cleaned with the following Clone Stamp technique. This exercise continues with ch5dust02.jpg from the previous exercise, or you can download ch5mold01.jpg to work along.

Figure 5.17Figure 5.17 Before


Figure 5.18Figure 5.18 After


  1. Create a new layer and name it Mold Removal.

  2. Set the Clone Stamp options to work in Normal mode at 100% Opacity and—most importantly—click Use All Layers. This tells the Clone Stamp tool to sample down through all the layers.

  3. Working on the dedicated Mold Removal layer use the Clone Stamp tool as you usually would: (Option + click)[Alt + click] to sample good image areas and then clone over the mold. Figure 5.19 shows the cleaned-up image. In Figure 5.20, I've turned off all layers except for the Mold Removal layer for you to see what it looks like.

  4. Figure 5.19Figure 5.19 Working on an empty layer with the Clone Stamp tool set to Use All Layers gives you the ability to add and erase repairs without affecting the background layer.


    Figure 5.20Figure 5.20 The isolated retouch layer.

Working with History

Photoshop's History feature keeps track of your steps and enables you to move backward and foreward in your editing process. By taking snapshots you can take notes of the state of the file at certain points in the retouching process. An additional feature is the History Brush tool that enables you to selectively paint back from History. In the following example, the original image, seen in Figure 5.21, reveals extensive mold damage, but the retouched file in Figure 5.22 is mold free and pleasing in tone and color.

Figure 5.21Figure 5.21 Before


Figure 5.22Figure 5.22 After


  1. Start the retouching session by inspecting the three individual channels. As you can see in Figure 5.23, the mold shows up the worst on the Blue channel.

  2. Figure 5.23Figure 5.23 Inspect the three channels before retouching to determine which is the best to work with. Often you can make quick work of your job by discarding severely damaged channels.

  3. Use the Channel Mixer to change the yellow faded original to a pleasing grayscale image, as shown in Figure 5.24. In this case I only used the Red and Green channel information by checking the Monochrome box to make Photoshop ignore the damaged Blue channel. As a general rule of thumb, when using the Channel Mixer, the total of the three color percentages should equal 100% in order to maintain the original image tonality. However, by adding 10% more green information, I am able to boost the image's contrast.

  4. NOTE

    There are no hard and fast numeric values that you can apply to all antique images. Practice your visual judgement to create images with pleasing contrast and tonal detail.

    Figure 5.24Figure 5.24 Use the Channel Mixer to create a pleasing black-and-white image. Track the image highlights with the Eyedropper tool and the Info palette.

  5. Take a snapshot of the merged layers by (Option + clicking)[Alt + clicking] the Create a New Snapshot icon on the History palette. Just as with layers, get into the habit of naming the snapshots, as seen in Figure 5.25.

  6. Figure 5.25Figure 5.25 Creating and naming a History Snapshot.

  7. Make the Background layer active and choose Filter > Noise > Median set to a 2- or 3-pixel radius. The careful reader will notice that I am modifying the Background layer, something I rarely do. In my own defense, I have found that working with History gives me wiggle room to experiment and modify layers without losing too much sleep.

  8. Take and name a snapshot of the blurred Background layer.

  9. Open the History Brush options and set the options to Soft Light at 25%–50% Opacity. Set the History Source to the Black and White snapshot created in Step 3.

  10. Paint with a large, soft brush over the Figure's face and clothing (see Figure 5.26). Notice how the face and clothing come through the blur while the mold damage is being ignored. The large tears and cracks in the background will need some refinement with the Clone Stamp in Part 2.

  11. Figure 5.26Figure 5.26 Brushing the face back with the History Brush.

  12. To refine the mold removal and to clean up the areas behind the woman, use the Clone Stamp on an empty layer. Add and name a new retouch layer.

  13. Use the Clone Stamp set to Use All Layers to clean up the details on the background and to spot out any remaining specks, as seen in Figure 5.27.

  14. Figure 5.27Figure 5.27 Working with both the History Brush and the Clone Stamp allows you to quickly touch up an image.

  15. One of the nicest aspects of old pictures such as this one is the frame, but the Median filter also blurred the frame. Select the center part of the image with a 2-pixel feather Marquee tool, as seen in Figure 5.28. It is often easier to select the areas you do not want to affect and then choose Select > Inverse to select the opposite areas.

  16. Figure 5.28Figure 5.28 Selecting the inside of the frame.

  17. Make the Background layer active.

  18. Set the History source to the Black and White snapshot, select Edit > Fill, and set the Contents to History, as seen in Figure 5.29. Click OK and notice how the frame pops back into focus. Deselect the frame.

  19. Figure 5.29Figure 5.29 Setting up the History Fill parameters to bring the frame of the old photograph back into focus.

  20. To add that old-fashioned, sepia-toned look to the final image, select a color either from the original file, another image, or use the Photoshop Color Picker to select a color of your choice.

  21. Add a new layer on top of the retouching layers and fill it with the selected foreground color.

  22. Set this layer's Blending Mode to Color and lower the Opacity until the desired tone and color is produced (see Figure 5.30).

  23. Figure 5.30Figure 5.30 Changing the Blending Mode to Color and lowering the Opacity to create the desired effect is an easy and quick way to tone an image with any color you like.

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