Photoshop Blog

July 1, 2013 /Photoshop /

A Step-By-Step Look at the Retouching in Newseum’s “Creating Camelot”

Last week, we shared a conversation I had with a team from the Newseum that worked on restoring a series of Presidential family photos for an exhibit titled “Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe.” That team was generous enough to share a small peek into the process they used to retouch Lowe’s historic photos. Here is an illustrated step-by-step guide to one part of their retouching process.

Some original photo prints are scratched and covered with blemishes. I’ll share an editing technique for removing the artifacts, without the healing or clone brush tool. This technique works in any tonal range. I selected a cropped photo from the Camelot theme below.

Process 1

First create a new layer. ⇓

Process 2

Second step below is to name your layer.⇓ My new layer name is gradation. Next select the gradation tool on the menu bar.

Process 3

Third step below is to click on the eyedropper tool and use the eyedropper to sample darkest color above window for Foreground Color, next click eyedropper just above hair of Robert Kennedy for sample of light color.⇓ 

Process 4

The tool bar ⇓ below shows Foreground and Background colors. 

Process 5

Next, click on gradation tool, then, click on gradient editor and click the top left preset color, and the name Foreground to Background appears and click OK.

Process 6

The gradient tool is loaded and ready to use ⇓. Place your mouse at top of image, then, click and drag to bottom of image area to create a gradient in the direction and length of the mouse motion. A short drag creates a short gradient; a long drag produces a smoother, longer gradient.

Process 7

Next we create a layer mask ⇓ for the gradation layer. The mask is filled with black so the gradation is opaque to background layer.

Process 8

Next, I toggle to the brush tool ⇓ on tool bar and select the alpha mask on the gradation layer to remove the scratches and blemishes in background. Set brush fill color to white!

Process 9

Set my brush tool 30px to start and adjust opacity range from 15% – 80%. Sometimes, I adjust the color and opacity on my gradation layer to match color to background layer ⇓.

Process 10

When I finish airbrushing my new painted background a new layer above the gradation layer is created. This new layer ⇓ is a noise layer to combat the banding. When you add or create smooth areas in an image, it’s very common for “stripes” to appear in the image. I create a new layer, use mode overlay and check the box – fill with overlay –neutral color and name it noise.

Process 11

Finally, click on the noise layer ⇓ and select ==> filter ==> noise ==>add noise ==> amount 3 or 4 %, distribution Uniform and check Monochromatic. Follow the steps from my gradation part of tutorial to create an alpha mask to black. Click on alpha mask, changing brush fill color to white and airbrush the noise layer into smooth areas of your gradation background.

Process 12

Thanks again to the Newseum team for bringing these brilliant photos back to life (with a little help from Photoshop) and taking the time to walk us through the process. To learn more about the “Creating Camelot” exhibit, click here.


Join the discussion

  • By Marshall - 10:09 AM on July 1, 2013  

    Shows just how much one can do with Photoshop. There are still some blemishes on John’s hair. I would have taken it further and removed all markings using the clone stamp.

  • By JTH - 10:16 AM on July 1, 2013  

    If you have to brush out all the scratches and specs anyway, why not just use the clone/heal/patch tools … seems like it would be faster and less work?

    • By Micaylah - 12:14 AM on July 2, 2013  

      It depends of the photo. Sometimes the cloning tools are far better than gradient, but both are an option and can be used.

  • By DS - 10:18 AM on July 1, 2013  

    I’m sorry, but to have a “team” work on this and that is the end-result is just embarrassing. It wouldn’t be hard to create a better result in 10 minutes. (I have no idea what ‘Newseum’ is/are or if they are expected to have skills in PS).

    • By BriBri - 10:35 AM on July 1, 2013  

      I have to be honest, I completely agree with you.

      I spent some time looking at these to see if I could even REALLY distinguish a big difference that a TEAM could take credit for… NOPE I couldn’t find one.

      A 12 year-old with remedial PS skills could have pulled this off.

      But then, that’s the difference between the “new schoolers” and those of us who come from the classically trained profession of Photography. I see the same thing in design, most new-schoolers don’t care about the art that IS the art, they just want it to look cool.

      Anyhow, I totally agree with you.

    • By je - 10:36 AM on July 1, 2013  

      To DS: If you don’t know what Newseum is/are, then note the blue hyperlink in the first paragraph the first time the museum is mention. Click the link to go to the website. In that same paragraph, you will note that the team is doing a series of photographs. There might be hundreds, maybe thousands, of photographs. You might now feel embarrassed to have written what you did.

      • By John OB - 11:50 AM on July 1, 2013  

        i work for a commercial photo lab and i retouch using photoshop nearly 8 hours a day….. in the last 20 years i GUARANTEE i’ve retouched more images than are in the Newseum’s entire catalog…. and if i would never give the above “retouched” image to a client…. “je” says a previous commenter should be embarrassed? no, whoever hired this incompetent “team” should not only be embarrassed, they should be sent back to McDonald’s where they belong.

  • By ND - 10:26 AM on July 1, 2013  

    lol.. such “skills” !

  • By Andrei - 10:31 AM on July 1, 2013  

    The use of the gradient tool is a nice trick though. Good to keep in mind.

  • By Randy - 10:36 AM on July 1, 2013  

    I would have used the clone stamp and healing brush.
    Would have been done with this in under 7 minutes.
    Wouldn’t have had any scratches left also . . . I vote fail, so sorry

  • By Jean Russo - 10:50 AM on July 1, 2013  

    Amateur work at best. Why is Adobe publishing this stuff as shining examples of what can be done in Photoshop? They should be embarrassed. But then, look at this Creative Cloud debacle. They have lost their way.

    • By je - 11:01 AM on July 1, 2013  

      Jean, Wait, what? You don’t like what the Newseum did to a photo and it’s the fault of Creative Cloud?

      • By Bern - 11:16 AM on July 1, 2013  

        If you read Jean’s comment again, it is not saying the Cloud is to blame, it is saying the cloud is another example of Adobe having “lost their way” (to quote Jean’s words)

        • By Stephen - 5:16 PM on July 1, 2013  

          I tend to agree… Not the best work… I posted a comment with the same photo i spend like 3 minutes on, and it looks a way better than this! But each designer has their own perspective i guess…

  • By GuavaGut - 10:57 AM on July 1, 2013  

    Thank you for showing a new (to me) and different way of doing something….yet another tool to add to the box! Thanks for sharing!

  • By Adam L - 11:11 AM on July 1, 2013  

    Archival photography is very different from getting a perfectly clean image. Part of the trick is to correct damage while still respecting the history of the image and the medium. You could make a Civil War photograph look as if it were taken yesterday with the latest technology but what would be point?

  • By je - 11:12 AM on July 1, 2013  

    I followed the hyperlink to the Newseum website in the first paragraph, and watched the video about the restorations. All 40,000 negatives had been stored in a vault in the WTC and were lost on 9/11. These photos were restored from the contact sheets, and this is just one small technique that is being shared, as stated above. It is not the entire restoration from beginning to end, and does not claim to be. It is another tool—intended to be part of the process—not the entire process!

  • By Bananko - 11:14 AM on July 1, 2013  

    I’ve done better with a badly damaged, torn photo, back in college, years ago. Are we supposed to be impressed? There is very little difference. If I had to guess, I’d say the contrast was increased and that is about it. However, I can appreciate the use of gradient in this instance.


  • By Ken - 11:36 AM on July 1, 2013  

    The group that did this are kids, they are learning, Sure those of us that use it every day have to look twice to see what they did… but when you do take the second look you do see it, and if it peaked their interest in Phoposhotp.. let’s face it, a photo correction, is better than a head swap. Keep up the good work kids

  • By Don Droga - 12:16 PM on July 1, 2013  

    This tutorial sucks.

  • By RobC - 12:45 PM on July 1, 2013  

    In the ninth screenshot, those crosshairs near JFK’s head are a little unnerving. Too soon!

  • By Ryan - 1:10 PM on July 1, 2013  

    Bashing them for their technique when all you’ve seen is a tiny portion of a photo which was never meant to be anything more than a proof of concept is pretty pathetic… If you took the time to actually research this, you would have already seen plenty of examples of very good restorations that they have done (they’ve been popping up for the last week). The point isn’t to make a polished modern image.. The point was to display an image as it was intended without the wax pencil markings and scuffs found on the contact sheets… Any working professional should be able to appreciate what they are going for here, and if you can’t then you’re clearly in the wrong field.

    • By je - 6:28 PM on July 1, 2013  

      Exactly, Ryan!

  • By Brian D. Watters - 1:40 PM on July 1, 2013  

    The Blog article Title I think is the main issue here, and likely reason for the strong criticism given by reviewers.
    When I first looked at the images, my instant thought was, “apart from adjusting the levels and contrast, and some desaturation, these photos don’t look restored.
    Then I went on to read the description under the title, which indicated that this was just a art of the process used by the children who worked on the project, without the use of cloning tools etc.
    Also, retouching, not restoring was done to this point.
    I would say that the effort these novice children did up to this point and their willingness to share part of their technique is very commendable, however the writer of the article, especially the title, seems to have suggested grander results than displayed here.
    I understand there may have been copy write and ownership issues which may prevent the entire image from being shown, however perhaps a third partial image showing the complete and finished work, or one of their better photos without the dist and scratches, would have been more awe inspiring from the point of view of Photoshop novices and professionals who subscribe to updates from this blog.
    Again, great efforts put forward by the kids, but the presentation of their work as suggested by the Title needs to reflect the partial results as the visual artists checking out the process will naturally look first and read last. 🙂
    Brian D. Watters

    • By Stephen - 5:14 PM on July 1, 2013  

      I think this is the best review of the work. Not The best photo, but commendable still 🙂

  • By Jerry - 2:17 PM on July 1, 2013  

    Nothing more than sharing another retouching trick.

    That said, I hope where the example ends is not the end of the photo’s restoration. If it is, then it is a failure imho.

    Adam L: Nobody here is suggesting this is supposed to look like it was taken with a Phase Two digital back, but surely the original negative was absent of the specs and color damage (pinkish damage on photo). Returning the image back to its original or unimpaired condition is the point. Effectively removing spots and scratches hardly disrepects the original medium. If they were to smooth out the grain and remap the tones/shades, then I could see your point.

    But as it stands, the example is only removing blemsishes. The crowd here seems to think its much ado about nothing – and I agree.

  • By Daniel - 3:42 PM on July 1, 2013  

    Is everyone really that stupid? This was to show one little part of it of course they aren’t going to show the whole process from beginning to end in a typed out tutorial. Watch the video and maybe do a little reading before you jump so quickly to the comment section and bash everything acting like you could do better. Obviously they wouldn’t hire mediocre photo retouchers to do a job of that size how about everyone chill out and actually think things through for once.

    • By Stephen - 5:10 PM on July 1, 2013  

      I agree to a point. I mean. This is Adobe. They should be showing off what the program can do to it’s fullest potential. The only people (for the most part) that are going to be looking at their stuff on forums like this are going to be designers. It’s a free world, you can do whatever you want. But coming from a marketing point of view myself (and designer) it would of made more sense to put something more in-depth or more detailed up rather then this.

      But again thats just me! They could have done better. And i bet they even had the ability to do so. They may of wanted to preserve the work as it was as much as posible. But still… You would think Adobe Photoshop wouldn’t put up such mediocre work at best to advertise their product. *shrugs*

      I mean – I did this in like 3 minutes… lol

  • By Lee - 4:52 PM on July 1, 2013  

    I don’t understand the point of using a gradient… There’s no gradient in the original photo so why not just use the solid color of the ceiling and a separate layer for the wall? This seems like an unnecessarily complicated method. Like other commenters mentioned, the clone tool or healing brush would give the same results in much less time.

  • By Larry - 9:34 PM on July 1, 2013  

    I would have used the clone tool and healing brush, but with that said, I am always open to learn a new method. This is more complicated, but now I know about the process. Thanks for posting.

  • By Brian - 11:34 PM on July 1, 2013  

    I am of the opinion that it is the damage to the image that really should be the target of any retouching. The exhibition is of Jacques Lowe’s photography of the Kennedy family it should not be altered to improve the image just repaired of anything that was not part of Lowe’s original Photograph.

  • By Bob - 10:40 AM on July 9, 2013  

    If you watch the video at the link, you’ll find out that it was a lot more involved than the the few steps talked about here. More important, you’re all assuming that the last step shown above has the image in final form.

  • By Natalie - 5:05 AM on July 17, 2013  

    They missed a couple of the red spots. It’s important to keep referencing the original, end result kind of flat – maybe what’s shown is not finished.

  • By laura - 12:11 PM on July 17, 2013  

    i don’t know how my work computer has this software other than via a purchase and download of a digital camera that i use for work pics. (jobsite not professional photography). and it did not get registered, now that i’m trying to regain access to downloaded pics i have to register the software. went through the steps only to get an error email message that this 3.2 ver. is not longer in use and expired. it will down load my pics but not let me use them.

  • By laura - 12:16 PM on July 17, 2013  

    i can’t get access to my photoshop album because the registration experied for the 3.2 edition. can someone get me pointed in the right direction i needs some help so i can get some of my old pics

  • By Franziska - 2:22 AM on July 22, 2013  

    Photoshop is a good software for working with photos.

  • By john - 2:57 PM on July 22, 2013  

    Franziska @ photoshop is awsome software for working with photos’ but this guide is too difficult for beginners can someone please refer bit easier guide step by step for re-touching ?

  • By Eleonore - 7:35 AM on August 10, 2013  

    I would have used the clone stamp and healing brush.
    Would have been done with this in under 7 minutes.
    Wouldn’t have had any scratches left also. I vote fail, so sorry

  • […] A Step-By-Step Look at the Retouching in Newseum’s “Creating Camelot” ( […]

  • By Unblocked Games - 4:16 AM on January 30, 2014  

    i can’t get access to my photoshop album because the registration experied for the 3.2 edition. can someone get me pointed in the right direction i needs some help so i can get some of my old pics

  • By Jack - 11:32 PM on April 1, 2014  

    nice tut

  • By Dien Dan Game - 7:12 AM on December 18, 2014  

    In the ninth screenshot, those crosshairs near JFK’s head are a little unnerving. Too soon!

  • By Lily Dowse - 5:47 AM on May 17, 2016  

    I’m searching such post . So huge thanks for sharing.

  • By Anne J. Gerald - 2:32 AM on May 23, 2016  

    Step by Step Look at the Retouching in Newseum’s “Creating Camelot” is more valuable for me .