Time was, faded-out color slides, usually old Ektachromes from around 1956 that had turned red, were considered a “lost cause,” suitable only for converting to black-and-white. But today’s software and digital technology has made it possible to bring many of these old images back to life, with spectacular results.
However, we tackle an even more intractable problem today- Anscochrome, a “grade Z” cheaper alternative to Kodak film that appealed to thrifty photographers back in the 1950s and 60s. These images have not held up well over the years, exhibiting color shifts that are all over the place. In some cases, it may not be possible to make these pictures look 100% normal, even with all the tools in our digital toolbox.
We have also included some faded Ektachrome slides, and even one Kodachrome example. For many years, Kodachrome was the benchmark, the “gold standard” against which all other slide films had to be judged, in terms of dye stability and color accuracy.
By the 1990s, Fujichrome Velvia had caught up to Kodachrome in terms of sharpness, color, and resistance to fading. With the rise of digital photography, demand for Kodachrome slide film gradually declined, to the point where Kodak discontinued it, and the last roll was developed in 2010. It used a considerably more complicated and difficult developing process than other slide films.
Most pictures in today’s post were shot on Anscochrome in the early 1960s, at two early railway museum operations in Ohio, Trolleyville USA and the Ohio Railway Museum. Presumably, they were taken by the same unidentified photographer.
The former operation is now history, after an aborted effort to re-establish it in Cleveland, while the latter has had its problems over the years. (As of this writing, the Ohio Railway Museum has not yet opened for the 2016 season, with an August 21 date scheduled.)
Trolleyville USA was a labor of love for the late Gerald E. Brookins, who owned a trailer park in Olmsted Township, Ohio. He built an operating trolley to bring people who lived in the trailer park to his general store. Starting around 1954, Mr. Brookins developed an extensive collection of equipment, and was responsible for saving many streetcars and interurbans from what would have been certain destruction.
While the Brookins concern no longer exists, much of its collection lives on in a variety of other places, such as the Illinois Railway Museum. (To see a list of equipment owned at various times by the Ohio Railway Museum, go here.)
In addition, there are a few interesting shots taken on other electric railways of the 1950s and 60s. I have only included a few of the “before” pictures, but except for the two shots from 1972, all of the originals looked just as bad as the samples shown.
These images will give you a good idea of what these two early museum operations were like in the 1960s. Recently, we learned that North Shore Line car 154 (a sister to the 160 at Union), built in 1915 and now 101 years old, has deteriorated so much in outdoor storage at the Ohio railway Museum that it is going to be scrapped.
Norfolk and Western steam engine 578, shown in operation below, last ran in 1978.
This makes the point that historic preservation will likely always be two steps forward and one step backward, in spite of everyone’s best efforts. However, there is also good news– Chicago “L” car 24, built in 1898, is far along in its restoration at IRM, and recently ran under its own power for the first time in more than 50 years.
In a few instances, we show the process of color restoration step-by-step. Of course, we can only work with what’s already there to begin with. There is a difference between color restoration such as this, and “colorizing” a black-and-white image. To see examples of colorized railfan images, you can check out Rick Foss‘ work on his Facebook page.
PS- This article is intended to be a brief introduction to the subject of color-correcting badly faded images. It’s been pointed out to me that several of these still have a definite color cast.
In most cases, I spent only a few minutes working on each one. Otherwise, this post would still be far off in the future. Sometimes it is necessary to work for hours on a single image to make it look “right,” if it can be made to look that way.
However, using the right tools, including Photoshop, even the worst of the images shown here is a definite improvement on its badly faded original. It’s remarkable that ANY of these pictures can be color-corrected, all things considered.
In some cases, you may get lucky, and it may take a few brief minutes to make your problem picture look 100% better.
Chances are, I will continue to work on these as time permits, and will post improved versions of some images in future.
As always, you can leave a Comment on this post, or contact us directly at:
Trolleyville USA (most pictures taken in July 1963):
These last two pictures were taken a few years later, circa 1972:
Ohio Railway Museum, circa 1965:
Montreal and Southern Counties interurban (quit in 1956):
Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee (North Shore Line, including a CERA fantrip:
South Shore Line/Illinois Central Electric:
Noted railfan Ray DeGroote recently celebrated his 86th birthday. In his honor, I have attempted to color-correct an Ektacrhome slide he shot in 1955.
The original Ektachrome had a film speed of 32, slow by today’s standards, but preferable to its contemporary, Kodachrome 10. Unfortunately, the dyes used in early Ektachrome were unstable. This problem was corrected by the early 1960s.
I also corrected a couple of Ektachrome slides from 1959 that have shifted to red. They show D.C. Transit car 766 in fantrip service. These are extreme cases, and it wasn’t possible to bring the color back to 100% normal for these two slides:
Don’s Rail Photos says:
766 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in 1918 as Capital Traction Co 27. It was rebuilt in 1931 and became Capital Transit 766 in 1934. It is now at the National Capital Trolley Museum.
Here’s a picture showing Pacific Electric 1543 and others in a yard in the Los Angeles area on August 11, 1959:
Spence Ziegler writes, regarding the Illinois Central Electric suburban service (now the Metra Electric):
Dates of all of the station closures, last run of the turnaround trains (Hyde Park, 72nd St., Burnside) and on what date the original Blue Island Coach yard closed and when the CJ/CR&I viaduct was removed. Any information would greatly be appreciated. Thank you in advance.
We will try to find answers to your questions, thanks.
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16 thoughts on “More Color Restorations”
Where in the world were the before and after shots of a CERA fantrip on the North Shore Line taken? It depicts a single car with the CERA emblem in a forest with a photo line in the foreground. It must have been early on, with men in white shirts and ties.
I was wondering that myself. Perhaps someone may know where this could have been taken. It’s terra incognita to this railfan.
ABSOLUTELY Beautiful restorations David (especially the I.C. & South Shore pix)
The ones that were properly exposed in the first place turned out well. Some of the ones that were overexposed have a bit of a color cast, and have a sort of “pasty” look about them. The one shot of CA&E 36, taken after delivery to Trolleyville in 1962, but before it was painted green, is underexposed. On those, I did the best I could.
Making the case to digitize your older pictures and slides.
On the subject of color film fading, I have a large personal collection of mostly Kodachrome 35mm slides that are 60 years old. On all the Kodachromes the color has stayed remarkably stable with them seemingly looking as good as when new. I’m sure there has been some fade that might be apparent if only fade measurement comparisons were able to have been made between when taken until the present.
I have started to get my more valuable pictures digitized which can preserve the colors even as the slides themselves eventually fade away, Kodachrome’s vibrant colors can last theoretically forever through digitization.
David I thank you very much of your weekly postings of Chicago and Midwestern streetcar and interurban images. I really enjoy viewing and learning from your efforts. I look forward to your next post 2000 miles away in Southern California. I had the pleasure of visiting Chicago (on business) in the late 1960’s and 70’s. A requirement on any trip regardless of the time of year was trip on the Evanston Express on the 4000’s. Fortunately IC and South Shore still had standard cars along with lots of TC lines and propane Twins. Even the Burlington west commuter service was interesting. My rep lived in Riverside so I did some train riding there. All of this was with camera in hand so I do have lots of slides from that era.
Now my question to you is what scanner do you use, what resolution do you scan at and what software do you for color correction, sorting and cataloging? I have many thousands of slide and not all are in the best shape including RGB negatives that need some TLC.
Thanks so much for your continuing sharing.
My only experience has been with Epson scanners, and like their printers, they do a fine job. My dpi (dots per inch) settings vary with the original image size. For a 35mm slide, I use 4800 dpi. A medium format neg should be fine with 600 or 1200 dpi. An 8×10 print should scan well at either 600 or 300 dpi. For black-and-white, I use 16-bits, but for color work, mostly 48 bit.
I have used Picasa as an image editor and sorter for many years with great results. That is a free download from Google, but I guess they aren’t going to be improving the product in future. Maybe someone else will take it up.
Images that need a lot of color correction, I run through Photoshop, since that offers a much greater degree of control. I used to make color prints for a living, so the concepts involved in color correction are the same, even though everything now is digital.
There are colors that are opposites of each other. Red/Cyan, Green/Magenta, and Blue/Yellow. The Anscochrome images were very Cyan/Blue, so they needed lots of Red and Yellow. I work quickly and “eyeballed” the results after moving the sliders around on the controls. Sometimes, I went back and did some fine-tuning after looking at the image for a while and thinking about it.
1956-era Ektachromes are very Red, so that means either adding tons of Cyan, or boosting the Green and Blue.
In general, due to the design of dye layers, Fujichromes and unfaded Ektachromes will scan better than Kodachromes do. Kodachromes have dye layers with different densities and the film was designed to have a somewhat blue cast because when projected, the light source was somewhat yellow and the aim was to achieve a neutral look on the screen.
In order to remove this Kodachrome “bluecast,” it is necessary to either reduce the amount of Blue, add Yellow, etc. etc.
As for scanner software, I have tried a few different programs, but in general have found the supplied Epson software to wrk best and easiest.
Hope this helps, thanks.
Thanks very much, No wonder your scans are so good. I normally use an Epson V550, V750 or an V850 that all use the same Epson software for negatives and prints and a dedicated slide scanner Pacific Image 7250 for slides at 3600 tiff’s . I try to get the final image at between 70 and 100 MEG’s. I never tried using an Epson flat bead scanner for slides. Of course I brush everything first to remove any dust. So I have been doing my color correction with the Pacific Image software which is limited but it does have an adjustment of the basic color level by color and an history graph which can be adjusted. I have had problems with fungus and bit rot on Kodachrome slides and dirt, dust, and oily film on other slides. I use PEC-12 with PEC PADS to clean and remove the fungus an bit rot. I have not tried Picasa, but as you said who knows what Google will be doing with it in the future. I have an older Photoshop 3.0 and Photoshop Elements 6.0 that I have never tried. Keep hearing how difficult they are to use. Looks like I need to learn Photoshop or Elements for color correction. From your experience and post I may get equal or even better quality scans from slides than my Pacific Image dedicated scanner. I will try some slide scans with my Epson’s. I say Epson’s because I am a volunteer for the archives at the Orange Empire Railway museum that has V500’s, V550’s, V700 and V8500’s. I have a V3750 and V550 and the Pacific Image 7250. I do have many thousand images of my own. The museum archive are very extensive and with our present scanners it would take a generation to complete the scanning of what the archive has now. I will try working with your recommendations and advise. As I learn more I will forward my results to you. I will also forward you some images as I scan and enter them into my archives. I will look forward to your continuing Trolley Dodger post. Again thanks Alan
Thanks so much. I forgot to add that these faded slides generally need a bit of contrast boost. Sometimes, the intensity of the color also needs to be increased a bit.
With modifying the “histogram” I am able to increase and change the color density and hue. There is contrast and brightness as well as separate color adjustment for the basic colors with the Pacific Image software also . I am really anxious to see the difference between scanning with the Epson flat beds and my dedicated slide scanner. It takes between 3 and 5 minutes per slide with the Pacific Image scanner and I have to load them one at a time. With the Epson you can load 8 to 16 slides at a time allowing for many more slides to be scanned in a day. It will all depend just how the final high resolution looks. Again thanks Alan
I have slides with problems too. I use an Epson V700 for all of my work. I have 2 programs which I use. I scan at 1200 dpi on slides and 800 dpi on prints. I then I start with Adobe 11 for color correction and contrast control. Then I use Paint Shop X5 for sizing and sharpening. I set up at 150 dpi and 4 inches high. I make 2 copies of the image and take one to Adobe. I like the system for captions. The other image goes thru Paint Shop and reduce to 100 pixels for a thumb. When I started, I did my scans at 2.50 inches high. I was trying to balance size on an internet run on dial up connections back in 1998. Then we got DSL and now I have Fios fibre. From time to time I update my images but I have forgotten the number of pictures. I do have 3800 pages and the size varies a lot. This project is a lot of fun for me since it keeps my mind working. After my stroke in 12 years ago, the Internet has been a blessing. When I can’t bring out words that I need, I can Google it. A lot of 85 year old guys spend most of their time slobbering down the shirt front.
I am sure there are many, many people out there who appreciate your contributions to our hobby. I certainly appreciate them. Your web site is a tremendous resource. Thank you for your continued efforts.
Thanks for your excellent color work, especially on the 1955 DeGroote shot on the Garfield line at Laramie, with its view west all the way to Loretto Hospital and the Greek Orthodox church on Central. Matching this shot to today’s Google Street View shows that in 61 years remarkably little has changed along Harrison west of Laramie: https://email@example.com,-87.7549881,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1swkz6qjMO-8jrMmuneIKuvA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1
[…] North Shore Line photo looks like it was taken at about the same time as one in our previous post More Color Restorations (August 9, 2016). As you can see from the sign on car 744, the occasion was a Central Electric […]
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