More Tips for Photo Restoration

If you’re anything like me you’ll remember all the occasions where you found yourself with the definitive photo of that special occasion. But the photo was not really of the best quality.

Perhaps it was under or over exposed, maybe it was a bit too fuzzy.

Well in this article we’ll look at how you can improve that photo so that it can take pride of place in your scrapbook layout.

To apply these tips you will need a good photo editing software program. I use Photoshop Elements but there are many others around that you can use, and they generally have similar functions although they may call the tools by slightly different names.

Once you’ve scanned the photo into your computer, open it up in your photo editing software program.

The first thing I always do is make a duplicate of the photo and work on the duplicate. It just saves having to repeat the scan if your restoration goes pear shaped and you have to start again.

Adjusting the lighting

And my second step is always to adjust the lighting.

In Photoshop Elements this function is found by clicking on the top menu bar Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels… This will open a dialog box featuring a black histogram (or black mountain as I like to call it).




All you need to do is to grab the black triangle underneath the mountain and move it to the right so it sits at the beginning of the mountain slope and then do the same for the white triangle, moving it to the left. In this example the white triangle would not need to be moved.

This will optimise the lighting range or exposure for your photo and will make a big difference. You can further tweak this by moving the grey triangle in the middle until you get a result you are happy with.

If your photo still looks too dark or too light, you can go into Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadows and Highlights which will often give your photo a ‘lighting lift’. And you can adjust the brightnes and contrast in Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Brightness And Contrast.

I use all these functions on a regular basis as I am not a good photographer and they help to compensate for my photography skills. So they’re not just for older photos.

But the secret is always Less is More. Make all your adjustments very gradually. And it’s always a good idea to keep going back to your original photo to comare how you’re going. In fact I usually make each change on a duplicate layer so I can easily compare and make sure that I am using this power for good and not evil.

Removing dust and scratches

If your photo has some really significant blemishes, this is not the technique to use. We will look at fixing those sort of problems in the third article on photo restoration (stay tuned folks).

But if your photo just has some light scratches or some small specks of dust, these can easily be removed by using the Dust and Scratches Filter found under Filter>Noise>Dust&Scratches in Photoshop Elements.

Now you should be aware that this filter works by blurring your photo slightly which disguises any light scratches or dust specks by bluring them into their surrounds. So you don’t want to apply this with a heavy hand or you will end up with a dust free blurry photo.

To get the best out of this filter you might like to try this:

  • Duplicate your photo layer.
  • On the duplicate layer select the Lasso Tool (you can also do this with the Marquee Tool if you don’t have a very steady hand).
  • Draw around the area you want to apply the filter to.
  • Hold the Shift Key down and draw around and other areas you want to apply the filter to.
  • You should now have one or a number of areas surrounded by dotted lines.
  • From the top menu bar, click Select>Inverse and then hit the Delete key on your keyboard.
  • Everything outside your selected areas on that layer will now be deleted (you can hide the layer underneath to see what I mean)
  • Now if you apply the Dust and Scratches Filter to this top layer it will only blur your chosen sections of the photo.
  • When you’re happy with your restoration, make sure the ‘restored’ layer is active and click Control + E on your keyboard to merge the two layers together.

Sharpening Fuzzy Photos

If your photo is a bit too blurry or fuzzy to use, your graphics editing program can help you to sharpen it up.

Now the most important thing to remember about sharpening your photos is:

Do it Last, and

Do it Once!

Make sure you apply your sharpening function after you have applied all the other photo improvement techniques that you’re going to apply.

Most Photo Editing programs have Auto or Default sharpening settings that you can apply by just clicking on the Auto button. But this is a very generic setting and often the result is not what you want. So if you tried that, reverse back out of it (Control+Z or click the Undo button) and try this approach:

  • Make a duplicate layer of your photo.
  • Open the Unsharp Mask function (in Photoshop Elements 5 & 6 You’ll find the Unsharp mask under the Enhance menu). In PSE 4 it lives in the Filter menu just click Fliter>Sharp>Unsharp Mask.


  • Set the Amount to 500% – the maximum it can go.
  • Bring the radius back to 0,1 and the Threshold at 0.
  • Zoom out a little so you can get a better view (click the – button under the preview panel)
  • Now move the radius over to the right very gradually. I usually highlight the Radius field by clicking on it and then use the up-arrow key on the keyboard to make very tiny increases.
  • When your picture seems to ‘pop’ into focus,¬† pull it back a little (downward arrow key) and then use the keyboard arrows to gradually increase until you’re happy click OK and your photo is sharpened.
  • If you don’t like the result, make sure you reverse out of the action (Ctrl+Z) to remove the existing unsharp settings before going back and doing it again.
  • You can hide your sharpened image by clicking on the eye icon in the layers pallet to reveal your original photo and compare them.

Softening the Faces of your Photo Subjects.

I know I just told you to make sharpening the very last editing action that you perform on your photos, but there is one exception to this rule.

Sometimes, in order to get a crisp sharp look to your overall photo you may find that the faces of your subjects are a little more sharp than you would like and might look a bit too grainy.

If that is the case then you can use this technique to soften the features a little.

  • Make a duplicate layer of your sharpened photo (always work on a duplicate layer, it makes it easy to compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’ results).
  • Select the Blur Tool (that’s the one with an icon like a drop of water and it’s usually found at the bottom of the Tools Pallet in a group with the Smudge Tool and the Sharpen Tool) and choose a soft brush.
  • Set the strength to 20% and paint over the faces with the mouse. Only lift your finger off the mouse as you complete each face or else you will go over the same spot and effectively double the strength to 40%.
  • And make sure you don’t paint over the eyes because they will look better if they are nice and sharp. This will just gently soften the faces and take the harshness out of them.

Color Casts

It’s a funny thing but photos from the first half of the 20th Century have a much better chance of surviving into the future than those taken in the 60s, 70s and 80s. That’s because the chemicals and paper used to print out those later photos (the early days of color) seems to have not been able to adjust to the passage of time. So many photo prints from that ere have developed color casts, giving the entire picture an over tone of pink, yellow or blue.

But don’t despair, these photos are not irretrievable.

You will need to scan them into your computer and load them into your photo editing program.

Then access your color editing pallet (in Photoshop Elements it’s under Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust Hue Saturation>

The top slider bar will adjust the overall Hue (color) of your photo. So just drag it slightly to the left or right until the offending color cast has disappeared.

colorcast1 colorcast2

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and that you can now bring back some of the older photos that you thought might not be able to be used in your scrapbooking.

In the next article on this series of Photo Restoration Tips I’ll be showing you some tips for repairing damaged older photos. So stay tuned for that one coming up.

Other Related Articles:

6 Top Tips for Photo Restoration with your Scanner

Scrapbooking Through the Economic Downturn

Scrapbooking with Lots of Photos

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4 Responses to More Tips for Photo Restoration

  1. Ayer June 11, 2009 at 3:24 am #

    I like this post. It’s very informative. Aside from learning to stitch,I am very much captivated by scrapbooking, which is my second favorite after sewing. It’s very important to know how to work on photo restoration since photos are the most valuable item in a scrapbook.

  2. Juliet June 27, 2009 at 3:48 am #

    This is just amazing. I have been trying to learn more on how to restore photo’s as this is my one passion for ages. Your ‘A B C’s is so easy to follow and is making it fun again for me. I thank you so very much for all you have done.I am also trying to learn digital scrapbooking which is so much fun..Once again THANK YOU!!

  3. karooch June 28, 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    You are very welcome Juliet. I’m so glad that my article is able to help you in your own photo restoration. Once you have a duplicate of your photo you can experiment with all sorts of feature in your photo editor to improve it. Don’t forget to check out the third part in this series on photo restoration
    Photo Restoration for Old or Damaged Photos


  1. Photo Restoration for Old or Damaged Photos - June 11, 2009

    […] Once you’ve scanned in your photo, play around with the lighting, shadows and highlights functions and also with the brightness and contrast as I described in More Tips for Photo Restoration. […]