Photo Restoration for Old or Damaged Photos

Do you have any old family photos from the days before digital cameras (yeah, remember those days?)?

Maybe they’re really old photos from your granny or great-granny’s time and have suffered through the passage of time to look a bit battered and worn now.

How frustrating it is not to be able to create great scrapbooking memories from them just because the quality is so poor.

So I thought we might look at some ways in with you can use your computer and photo editing software to try and fix up these photos and give them a new lease of life.

Damage around the edge of your photos

Many of our really old photos have had a hard life. And it often shows in the dog-eared edges that they have developed over the years.

If the damage around the edges of your photos doesn’t extend too far into the photo, and if the background in this area is not important to the context of your photo, then the easiest way to deal with this is to crop the daggy edges off.

Now before we go any further I need to stress that you should not physically crop your old photos. It is the digital versions that I’m talking about. The digital image you have created after scanning your photo (using some of the tips in 6 Top Tips to Photo Restoration with Your Scanner).

The instructions in this article are based on Photoshop Elements but all good photo editing software programs will have similar tools and functions

  • Load your scanned photo into your photo editing software
  • Select the Crop Tool from your tool bar and drag the mouse across the part of the image that you want to retain in your restored photo.
  • Release the mouse button and click on the accept check mark to crop your photo.

Dark and Gloomy

Often your old photos will actually grow darker with age as the black ink on your black and white prints starts to ‘take over’.

It’s important to try to fix as much of this as you can at the scanning stage as described in my earlier article on  using your scanner to help with photo restoration.

By adjusting the lighting with your scanner you can capture much more detail and you will be able to further improve on this using your photo editing software. If you don’t make this adjustment at the scanning stage then this detail will be lost and no matter what else you do, you won’t be able to get it back.

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.

Here’s how to lighten up those dark and gloomy looking photos:

  • Duplicate your photo layer and work on the duplicate.
  • From the Blending Menu in your Layers Pallet choose Color Dodge for colored photos or Linear Dodge for black and white photos
  • Your photo will be lightened and brightened And you should be able to see the extra detail.
  • If you don’t want it that light, reduce the opacity of the blended layer so that more of your original photo is in the mix.
  • Ctrl+G to group the two layers together. And Ctrl+E to merge them.

dodge-example-1 dodge-example-2

If you still have some areas of your photo that are too dark then you can apply the Dodge Tool to spot fix them.

  • Duplicate your photo layer and work on the duplicate.
  • Select the Dodge Tool from your Tool Bar ( in PSE it is grouped with the Burn and Sponge Tools and looks like a black lollipop)
  • Choose a soft brush and set the Exposure to 15% and set the range to Midtones or Shadows (depending on how dark the area that you want to fix is).
  • Now just carefully ‘paint’ over the areas you want to lighten up with your mouse.

Faded Photos

Sometimes your vintage black and white photos will fade over time.

Make all your adjustments before scanning your photo into your computer and then tweak the lighting as described in More Tips for Photo Restoration.

Where there is an area of your photo that is still faded you can bring out the detail using the Burn Function. Remember though, you can’t burn back detail that isn’t there. So that’s why it’s important to get the best quality scan that you can. The scanner can pick up detail that your eye can’t see and you can then bring this detail out with the tools in your photo editing software.

Just follow the instructions above but from the Blending Menu in your Layers Pallet choose Color Burn for colored photos or Linear Burn for black and white photos (set the range to Highlights).

To spot fix any other specific areas choose the Burn Tool from the tool bar. It looks like a hand in a fist. Then apply it as described for the Dodge Tool

Spotting on photos

On really old black and white and sepia photos or ones that have not been well stored during their life you might notice very small brownish spots. This is known as foxing.

If the marks are very small you can fix them with the Healing Brush.

Just select the Healing Brush tool from your tool bar and click on the blemish. Your photo editing software will copy the pixels from the surrounding area and paste them over your blemish.

This technique only works with very small blemishes. If your damaged area is larger than a spot I recommend you use the Clone Stamp Tool (I believe it’s called the Rubber Stamp Tool in Paintshop Pro).

  • Select the Clone Stamp from your tool bar and set the opacity to between 30-50%.
  • Choose a soft round brush to work with that’s smaller than the area you want to fix.
  • On a section of the photo that has the color/tone that you want to place on your blemish, click with the mouse button whilst holding down the Alt key at the same time(Alt+Click). This provides a reference point for your computer to copy/clone from.
  • Now dab over the blemish area with your mouse. Because you have a low opacity you won’t cover it entirely. But that’s OK because you can Alt+click on another area of the photo and repeat the process. You don’t want to make your cover up look like a cut and paste from another part of your photo.
  • You should repeat this a number of times, just covering a little of the blemish each time until you are satisfied.

As you can see this will require a bit of playing around and you may need to reverse your actions sometimes until you get the effect you want. It is obviously a  trickier exercise with a larger area than with a smaller one.

Repairing torn or creased photos

If your photo is sepia convert it to black and white in your photo editing software. It’s easier to work in black and white and you can convert it back to sepia when you have finished restoring it if you want to.

If the tear is on a part of the background that is similar to another part of the background you can copy/paste part of your photo to cover it.

  • Duplicate your photo layer and work on the duplicate.
  • Select the Marquee Tool from your tool bar.
  • Set it to ‘New Selection’
  • Drag your mouse across the part of your photo you want to copy. You will get ‘marching ants’ around the selected area.
  • Press Ctrl+C to copy and Ctrl+V to paste.
  • Your selection will automatically be pasted into a new layer.
  • Click on the new layer and switch to your Move Tool.
  • You can now move the copied selection over the tear in your photo background.
  • When you are happy with the positioning, click Ctrl+E to merge the two layers together.

If your tear is in an area with more detail, you will need to use more specific repair techniques:

  • Duplicate your photo layer and work on the duplicate.
  • Crop the photo back to what you absolutely need to reduce the amount of repair work you need to do.
  • Make all of your adjustment to the photo; adjusting lighting, shadows and highlights, brightnes and contrast etc.
  • Now use the Clone Stamp as described above to hide the tear by replacing it with clones of similar areas of your photo. You should choose a soft brush set to a small radius and with 100% opacity.
  • This can be painstaking work and you should change your reference point frequently (Alt+Click) so that the repair doesn’t look like you’ve just stuck a section of a photo on top.

I hope these tips will help you to rescue some of those old heritage photos and use them before they deteriorate too far. It’s well worth taking a bit of time and trouble because once they’re gone, they’re gone for ever.

And if you have any other tips or experiences that you’ve had trying to restore old photos, please share them with us in the comments section below. I love to read your comments and ideas and I know other Scraps of Mind readers do too.

Other Related Articles

6 Top Tips to Photo Restoration with Your Scanner

More Tips for Photo Restoration

Scrapbooking with Lots of Photos

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