Saturday, May 16, 2015

Getting that Old Faded Photo Look - A Tour of Tone Curves In ACDSee Ultimate 8

This is a quick tutorial on how to recreate that washed out, 1960's Old Color Photo look by using the Tone Curves control found in ACDSee Ultimate 8 or in ACDSee Pro 8. Please note that any image in this tutorial can be 'clicked on' and the image will be enlarged.

First, A Guided Tour of the Tone Curve Control.

Coincidentally, this tutorial is also a pretty good explanation of the Tone curve control found not only in the ACDSee products, but in almost every other photo editing product on the market.

You know, we often see on various photo web sites newbies posting someone else's photo that emulates this look and then asking, "how did they get that look?"

And, often times more experienced users will point to various add on programs to do this thing and then the newbies go out and buy that new software, when in all likelihood they not only already have the means to do it, but they also have the required skills to do this without spending any extra money whatsoever!

The truth is, that just about ANY software that has a tone curves control can replicate this look very easily. That means if you own Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, ACDSee Pro 8 or Ultimate, Paintshop Pro, Gimp or a host of other photographic software, this look is already well within your means and skill level, no matter how much of a newbie you are. So lets get started, and explore this technique.

To the Right and above,, is he tone curves control in the ACDSee Ultimate 8 Raw development tab. It has all the conventional functionality found in most tone curve controls and a few things added to make it more useful for raw development processing.

To the left, is the tone curves control found in the ACDSee Ultimate 8 Edit tab. It too has all of the conventional functionality found in most tone curve controls but without the raw development considerations of of the Development tab.

Now, the question as to why there are two separate tabs in ACDSee that offer many of the same controls is beyond the scope of this tutorial. At this point, let's just say that some photographers who use jpg and tif based photos sometimes find it easier to deal with them without having to worry about the raw development tools complicating their choices.

For this tutorial, we can use either, or some other software completely, for that matter, and it won't make much difference. I personally prefer to use the Development tab controls whenever possible,

Before we get involved with the changes we intend to make, lets first discuss the controls we see in the tone curve control group. The first, most obvious, is the curve display itself.

Note there are two default anchor points on the diagonal line that represents the tone curve.

As in a live histogram, the left side of the tone curve chart represents the shadows, while the right side of that same chart represents the highlights, and of course, the area in the middle is what we call the mid-tones.

But in the typical tone curve control set up we also have the luxury of moving those control points and any control points we subsequently create, up and down as well as left and right. If we are trying to control lighting, the up and down movement controls how light or how dark those shadows, mid tones, and Highlights are.

Also remember that if we are trying to control the intensity of one or more of the color channels, that is, the Red, Green, or Blue channels which make up ALL of the other colors we see, that up and down movement of the control points controls color intensity.

Note the little Drop Down box next to the word “Channel:”.  There are 4 options, "RGB" which combines all 3 channels into a single brightness channel, and then an “R” for Red, a “G” for Green, and a “B” for Blue. These three primary colors combine to control every color available in the photo!

With these channels I can tell the Tone Curve Control to adjust brightness in specific areas of the chart, or by individually controlling the level of color intensity for each channel, I can control the tinting and shading of all the colors

Lets play with the up and down and left right movement a little bit. Note that when I grab the default shadow and move it up towards the top of the chart, while leaving it at the furthest left most horizontal position, the photo gets a little washed out.

That's because I'm saying to the editor, "Hey editor! I care about ALL the shadow that is in this photo, however I don't want the blackest part of the shadow to be as dark as it is! Lighten things up a bit for me will you?"

Now when I leave the shadow anchor point alone but move the Highlight anchor point DOWN, notice that the contrast goes down compared to what it was. Thats because we are telling ACDSee Ultimate 8 that we want the highlights to be LESS bright.

Let's try one more thing, move the shadow anchor point to the right. Note the odd situation of a sort of dull High contrast combination. This is because moving the Shadow anchor point to the right tells ACDSee Pro 8 (or Ultimate 8) that we only care about the shadows to the right of the anchor point. ACDSee will only do its best to display detail reflected to the right of the anchor point. Everything to the Left of the anchor point is allowed to full black.

Let's have a little logic test. What do you think will occur if we move the highlights Default anchor point to the LEFT?

If you answered that the contrast would go up, then you would be correct. The reason is, that We are telling ACDSee Ultimate 8 (or Pro 8) that we only care about the highlights to the left of the Highlight anchor point. ACDSee will only protect the detail to the left of the anchor point and allow the highlight detail on the right of the anchor point to display as WHITE.

But of course, as I mentioned earlier, We can create our own anchor points. Let's reset the Tone curve controls to their original default setting. We can do this by clicking on the little 'gear wheel' in the Tone curve window which resets only the tone curve controls; OR clicking on the larger 'gear wheel' at the top of the screen. This wheel resets ALL controls, not just the tone curve controls, to their default settings. In this particular case, either window will work for us, since the only changes we have made are to the tone curve controls.

To create a Tone curve anchor point, merely click on any point in the Tone Curve chart. You can click on the default curve line itself and drag it to the location you want, or you can click on any area of the chart and the curve will adjust itself to to where ever your cursor is pointing.

You can do this with the Channel called RGB, which is effectively the brightness channel, Or you can select either “R”, “G”, or “B” and adjust them manually.

Now this is pretty much the operational theory behind the various Tone Curve controls for almost every software package on the market. If you understand what we've done so far, You should have very little trouble using any Tone Curve control you encounter.

How to achieve that 1960's, Washed Out Old Photo Look.

Now let's do something practical! AS promised I will show you how to recreate that washed out look so popular right now. And best of all, it is SUPER easy, and super FAST.  Best of all, you don't have to buy any additional software if you already own software with a tone curves control.  I'm bored with the photo we've been using, let's try something else.

First, lighten the photo, so the deepest blacks are washed out a bit.

I notice that while I like how the blacks are pleasantly washed out, I don't particularly like what it has done to the contrast overall. I think much of this photo's dynamic comes from contrast. But by experimenting, I realize that pulling down the mid tones changes the balance of contrast and I don't want that. 

What I want is to add back at least part of the 'pop' that comes from contrast without getting rid of the washed out look of the shadows.  So I then created a new control point a bit past the mid tones and pulled the curve up a bit. This allows me to have a washed out look with a bit of pop in the contrast.

This is almost right, but we really haven't accounted for the slow deterioration of the color dyes in an old photo. As a result, I brought up the Red channel a bit. If you so chose, you could replace Green with Red, or combine Green with Red to go with a more yellow look, if you so chose. That's a question of your artistic judgement.

That's it! This short tutorial has not only given you a guided tour of ACDSee Pro 8 and Ultimate 8's Tone Curves control, but gave an example of how the control can be used for a specific effect. I hope you have found it useful.