I have several analog color films recently developed from a vacation in Ethiopia. On the flights to and from Addis Abeba as well as on several inland flights the films have been repeatedly X-rayed. I have forgotten to pack them in safe containers. On most European flights this is no longer necessary.

Now the colors are often bleak, some with a green sheen, effectively ruining precious pictures. I've gotten digital copies to play with.

Do I have a chance to restore them to an acceptable quality? I have a copy of Photoshop, but I'd even consider buying other tools if the chance for success warrants it.

I have put a sample picture [3Mb!] at my website. The foreground is supposed to be red sandstone :(


2 Answers 2


If we are talking about global colour shifts, Photoshop has lots of tools to change the colours back, like hue shift, white balance and the tool where you can "Drag" one colour on the gamut towards another. and maybe you need some contrast enhancement.

If it is destroyed in a unique spatial pattern, it is much harder. You need to apply correction in a seperate "effects layer" and mask it.

If everything else fails, convert to greyscale, play with the luminance curves and make some artistry like that.

I took your image and tried two methods:

  1. Original

  2. White balance, added red and blue, changed contrast, gamma, and local contrast optimization to cut through haze.

  3. Local contrast first, then I used a "Advanced colour control" where I can modify colours as a function of the other colours - I substracted 10% of the red and blue from the green (effectively keeping the real green things green), lowered the red by 20% and added a bit of green and blue to the red (this removed the redness from the shadow) and then applied S curve the luminance curves to drag the min value to zero and increase contrast. T

    • the colours can be changed as you see fit, I just picked some - I don't know how the red sandstone really looks :)


Film Fix

It would also be an advantage if your scans are 16 bit.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if X-rays really destroy the film, maybe the information is still present and can be brought out again, at least to some degree. I have a small hope that someone knows what happens to colour film when exposed to X-rays, and can give a tip as to what might be possible. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 20, 2012 at 12:53
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ kodak.com/global/en/service/tib/tib5201.shtml \$\endgroup\$ Dec 20, 2012 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ As I feared, the effect is not global in most cases. In others you can just boost global and local contrast (local contrast is called clarity in Adobe). \$\endgroup\$ Dec 20, 2012 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ added 2 fixes for your example \$\endgroup\$ Dec 20, 2012 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "It would help center if your scans are 16 bit". More bits in this specific case may help with the preserving quality when you do the image-processing. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 20, 2012 at 16:14

You can't restore information that is lost, but if the effect is uniform over the entire image, or at least gradual, you can balance it out to restore the same look as it would originally have.

With the added processing you will of course lose even a little more quality, but that is hardly visible. What you might see is that the limitations of the data gets more visible when you amplify it to counter the loss in contrast.

I tested to do some adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw. Perhaps not exactly the style that you want (and the screen that I use right now isn't even calibrated), but at least it seems that you can get back quite a lot just with the basic adjustments:



Temperature +9
Tint +58
Exposure +0.55
Fill light 8
Blacks 30
Brightness -1
Contrast +38

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