Of all the places I’ve ever been, few can compare to Chaco Canyon. I couldn’t tell you why, but it’s just an awe-inspiring spot to visit — maybe because it’s a pain to get to, maybe because so few people are ever there at any given time, maybe it’s just the history that the place represents.
Back in 1981, I passed through on my way home after my sophomore year of college. Using my trusty OM-1, I took shots all over the place on slide film. Unfortunately, the film I used wasn’t terribly stable — the slides all looked fine a year or two ago, but when I pulled them out to look at them again a few months back, they looked awful. They were all turning a sickly reddish tint, but with some bits of film grain going completely white.
This called for emergency measures. I picked up a decent slide scanner, and got the slides all into the digital domain where they can’t degrade any more. The scanner software does a pretty decent job of color correction once you’ve tweaked some settings — but now all the little whiteish film grains have been turned a deep, dark green. And of course, the resolution of the scanner is sufficient to show me all sorts of scratches that you just couldn’t see with an old analog slide projector. Here’s a representative slice of sky:
I could see that I had my work cut out for me.
So I started with the land elements. Here, there was little choice but to individually clone out all the scratches and little green dots (strictly speaking, using the healing brush tool in Photoshop Elements). A simple task, if time consuming — maybe two hours for this slide.
Once I had the land and structure cleaned up, I had to scratch my head a bit about the sky. I started by using the healing brush tool again on the sky scratches, and on larger green dots in the sky as well. Next I used the magic want to select the sky, copy it, and pasted it to two more layers. By grouping the layers, I could use one of the copies as a mask, and promptly filled the mask’s sky with black. Going to the unmasked copy of the sky, I then used various blur filters until all the lumpy colors blended together again in a natural-looking sky.
Since my new, blurred sky is in a layer “above” the rest of the image in Photoshop Elements, it now covers the lumpy / dirty / degraded sky in the scan. The mask assures that the blurred sky doesn’t cover any of the land.
So some hours later, I had recovered this image from decades back:
Pretty good save, don’t you think?