Editing photos do make them look much better, or that's how I think after trying a few simple tricks to improve my old photos. These tricks I have learned by seeing what others have done and from tutorials I have found on Internet. …
Very first thing you may wish to do for a photo is some improvements on contrast, brightness or white balance. On photo editing software there are usually tools like 'auto levels, contrast and color', which you can try. However, I recommend not to accept them without criticism. Try the tool, but if you have even small doubts about the results, then just undo and try something else. For example sometimes 'auto leves' fails to make the colors natural. Then you may get better results with 'auto contrast'. And sometimes the picture is perfect just as it is.
Another thing you can do is tamper the levels manually. Here's a good tutorial how to do levels on PhotoShop. There's very similar tool also on GIMP, so that tutorial should work for GIMP just as well.
Next step is to check if there's much noise that may look bad especially when the picture is enlarged. If you enlarge the previous picture right after 'auto leves', you may notice there's quite much small speckles on it. This is because the photo is taken in poor light conditions using high ISO value.
This noise can be reduced by running so called 'smart blur' ('selective gaussian blur' on GIMP). The recommended values are somewhere around 7 for radius and treshold (radius and delta on GIMP). What are the right values depends very much on the size of an original picture and your personal taste, but do not exaggerate. You may not get all noise removed because this smart blur actually does exactly what it says: it blurs the picture.
Dark vignettes have become quite popular lately. The idea is to make the corners of the image look a little darker than the center, thus giving more vivid and a bit dramatic touch for the picture. This can be achieved simple by using a dark layer where's blurred hole cut through. Here's a short instruction how to do that:
- Add layer
- Fill in the layer with black paint
- Cut circle or any shape you like in the middle
- Deselect if the selection does not get unselected after cutting the hole
- Add 'Gaussian blur' and be quite generous with it
From here on you have different possibilities:
- Change the opacity of vignetting layer
- Change the opacity of fill
- Change the mode of vignetting layer to 'Overlay' (option at least on PhotoShop)
- Change the mode of vignetting layer to 'Soft Light' (option on PhotoShop and GIMP)
You can even combine those by choosing 'overlay' and decreasing the opacity for the layer. Here's more or less the same explained for GIMP. In that tutorial there's layer mask used but I really don't know why 😀 You can just as well cut the hole into layer.
Taking these few steps you get started easily. More tricks maybe coming in near future 😉
EDIT: As you may noticed, large speckles are not removed, and that would be impossible withe the tool I described. If you happen to know way to lessen those larger speckles, then please give feedback.