Over the last few years, we have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of image processing tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) components.

AI has been incorporated in the most recent versions of Photoshop and the editors and plugins available from other software providers.  Topaz Labs, for example, have released a suite of AI-enabled tools to perform specialist image processing tasks, including noise reduction, sharpening, local contrast adjustments and the creation of masks.

The impact of AI technology has been particularly impressive where it has been applied to complex problems like noise reduction – which require the removal of unwanted artefacts without suppressing fine details.  AI tools have also made it easier to create layer masks around intricate shapes and outlines such as fur, flyaway hair, fine filaments, and branches.

While exploring the latest version of Topaz DeNoise AI and comparing a set of images before and after processing, I was reminded of the 35mm slides that I took in Nepal in 1989.

For many years, this collection included some of my best travel images.  Unfortunately, the boxes containing these slides were left in a loft space after moving to a new house and subsequently exposed to wide variations in both temperature and humidity.  It goes without saying, these conditions were not ideally suited to the storage of film stock and when I found the boxes a few years later many of slides were completely ruined.  Some of those that survived were covered with thousands of tiny specks that proved impossible to remove from either the film emulsion or the scanned digital images.  The specks were too small and numerous to remove from the digital files and the dust and scratch removal tools available at the time failed to do the job.

The project to restore the spoilt images was eventually abandoned and the associated TIFF files left in a rarely visited folder somewhere on my file server.  Until now!

Excited by the potential promised by the latest AI tools, I decided to find out whether these could help with the restoration of my slides and the eradication of those irritating little specks.

The results were remarkable.  By carefully adjusting the controls in DeNoise AI, I was able to remove most of the specks whilst retaining the underlying image details.

The examples below were processed in Photoshop using the following Topaz plugins:

• DeNoise AI – 2.2.2
• Mask AI – 1.2.4
• Sharpen AI – 2.0.5
• Adjust AI – 1.0.0

Technical notes

Although different filter settings were used for each image, the basic processing steps were similar in all cases:

  1. Open the TIFF file in Photoshop.

  2. Duplicate the background layer and apply DeNoise AI as a filter.

  3. (Optional) Create an additional layer and apply a second DeNoise AI filter to those parts of the image that lack any intricate details – such as blue skies and plain backgrounds.  These areas can be selected using Mask AI and the DeNoise AI filter settings increased to remove some of the specks that remained following Step 2.

  4. Manually remove any larger unwanted artifacts using the spot removal, clone, and content-aware fill tools in Photoshop.

  5. Merge the modified layers into a smart object and apply any additional adjustments or filters that may be required.

  6. Save the edited image as a new TIFF file – together with the Photoshop PSD file containing the layers used to apply the filters and adjustments.

Further information on the Topaz AI suite can be found at topazlabs.com