Here's the original. The "active area" (the part the customer cared about) was only 2.5 x 1.85 inches in size. As you can see, it had faded to near-invisibility.
The first step is to ask the customer some questions. "Tell me about this picture" is a great one to open the conversation. It encourages the client to tell his or her story, about the people in the picture, how she came into possession of it, where it was hidden for all these years, etc. "What would you like to see as the result of the project" is another good question. "How big would you like it" is a key question, too. Inevitably people want their pictures larger .... but frequently they don't understand the relationship size has to difficulty, or the limitations of the process.
Once we've set goals for the project, and I've looked at the job under an 8x loupe (and shared that with the customer) to make sure I know what I'm getting into, I quote a price and begin the work.
Projects like the one shown here are traps for me --- and I fell into one this time. When the picture has faded as far as this one, and you create enough contrast to see the detail, you create huge numbers of nasty little artifacts. Just how bad these turn out to be governs a lot of the time it takes to clean them up. In this case, I underestimated by 60%. My loss.
I scanned this image at 1200 ppi, knowing that I'd be able to get a 5x7@300 out of it, and still have some headroom to work with.
Here's the result of the initial scan (the border came afterwards, but it's irrelevant at this point):
As you can see, there's still not much to build from. So up goes the contrast via level adjustment:
The levels are better, and you can see the faces, but the image is still washed out AND grainy.
The next stage was to manipulate using various layer modes, trying to get the best combination of contrast and good texture. But the noise and artifacts kept getting worse. I tried Noise Ninja, but you can't blast the noise without killing too much detail. So it's an interactive process leading from this:
To reach the version immediately above, I isolated the background and used a "median" adjustment. I then inverted the selection and created new layers containing only the people.
This is the point at which you can see how great the damage is. I've already rebuilt the eyes, but as you can see all the scratches, spots, and worn areas are obvious. Removing these is largely done one blemish at a time. After a few hours you get to something like this:
More handwork followed, refining eyes and mouths, cleaning up the dresses, etc.
Eventually, I blended the background and the figures, and gave the whole thing another round of nit-picking.
This work is not perfect. It would take another 3 hours or so to get there. But the client will be totally delighted with it, and to spend 8 hours on extra coats of "hand rubbed lacquer" when the customer will only pay for enamel makes no sense.
The final image will be printed on an ultra-fine grained fine art paper, and that's it.
The point of all this is that good restoration work is not something you run through automated stages. At every point you have a selection of tools to use, subroutines and plug-ins to call upon, and you have to take breaks or you go buggy from staring at the individual pixels too long.
Some of the tools used in restoring this picture were:
Blending Modes (multiply and pin light for sure)
Photoshop noise controls, especially median and dust-and-scratches)
There is no one right way, no one right tool for all jobs. You just have to know what you're doing, and then use a fair amount of "undo" to get it all right.
Just thought you'd like to know.