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Operative old photo restoration techniques
almost 6 years ago

Old photos are not mere imprints of a bygone era but valued assets that bridge your present with the past. If an old photo has sustained any damage, it is impossible to get its replicated version. Old photo restoration techniques facilitate mending the impaired photos convincingly so as to keep the memories preserved in undistorted manner.


Can all damaged photos be repaired?

The extent to which a vintage photo can be restored depends on a wide variety of factors including its age and mode of storage. The crispiness of print quality dictates the success ratio of restoration exercise. Damages of varied types can be set right with the aid of scanner, computer, and thorough knowledge of photo-editing software.


Faded, silvered, scratched, creased and mold or mildew effected photos can be restored with little effort and perseverance. The impact of dust, creases, and water marks can also be eliminated. Marks induced by tearing and ripping can also be ironed out. Once the digital restored version is ready, you can get the same printed out on archival paper or else entrust it to a photo studio for framing.

If the photo has undergone significant damage, you can restore your old photos by employing advanced tricks available in Photoshop or other leading software. A course in photo retouching would come handy.


Restoring old pictures

Faded and scratchy photos can be restored by most photo editing software.


Step 1

Prior to embarking on the actual job of repairing damaged photographs, it would be prudent to work with the photo’s replica to save the original from any further unintentional deterioration. Scanning or capturing a snap of the photo would do fine.


Scanning should be done with scanners optimized for photos and at maximum dpi (dots per inch) at 100% size. Going beyond the same can cause loss of details if final print is on smaller page. 


Photography should be done with superior quality lens that can snap the photo with optimal details. Capture under sufficient light but avoid using direct sources of light as glare would cause bright spots to appear on the photo.

Make it a point to save the digital version in .TIFF format as this would ensure capturing of maximum details.


Step 2

Subject or camera movement can induce off centeredness in original or digital version of photo. Some photos have redundant details that are irrelevant. Prior to restoring, align the image properly to get it in square shape and also crop off superfluous edges.

Image can be rotated using ‘Rotate’ option under ‘Image’ menu in editor. ‘Custom’ allows you to enter the percentage by which photo is to be rotated. During rotation, if additional screen becomes visible, don’t worry as you can crop off the same later on.


Marquee tool is suitable for outlining and segregating the portion that you want to focus on in the edited image.


With aforesaid exercise, you now have a sharp photo with squared sides and focus on subject.


Step 3

Colour adjustment is central to damage photo repair. Silver element in photos induces discoloration with ageing. In the photo editor, ‘Curves’ helps to adjust colour. Photo’s contrast can be altered through shadow deepening and highlight brightening. Details that were invisible due to fading would now be apparent.

Slight colour adjustment can be done through conversion of image to black and white or by offsetting the nominal tint that may surface in vintage photos by moving the bar lever to eliminate the most prominent colour.


Each version of colour adjusted image needs to be saved separately so that you can choose the one that has the most appealing colour tone.


Colour adjustment should be done prior to fixing of image deformities like scratches. Vice versa would cause the deformities to be visible again when colour is adjusted.


Step 4

Old photos are covered by scratches of 2 types. First is of thinner type that generally taints the photo’s background. Another is the heavier type that covers the subject or the focused upon section of photo. Photo restoration with Photoshop works well in both cases.


Spot healing tool will come handy in removing scratches of first type. It factors in pixels flanking the scratch and commingles them to conceal the scratch. Brush size should be cautiously selected to match scratch size. Selective parts should be worked upon to assess the outcome’s aesthetics. If the result is not fine, you can adhere to technique discussed next.


Bloated scratches require intervention of clone sample tool. You have the liberty to choose shape’s size and area that would be used for patching the scratched portion. First choose a small section, apply the clone on edges and then navigate to the central portion. Refrain from covering entire scratch in one go. You have to blend the clone with the background seamlessly and hence go slowly. Photo’s missing or ripper part can be mended with this if info is present in background. Replicate matching background portions or parts that carry maximal details.


Step 5

Clone tool can help restore missing part of subject’s face that has been deleted by water damage or scratch. Symmetry of face can be utilized for restoration. Clone the intact part of face as a fresh layer and after flipping over the same, rotate it angularly till the missing facial part is matched. Face selection is to be done with marquee tool. New layer would leave space underneath it intact. After flipping over the layer, adjust its rotation until it complements the damaged area perfectly. Colour and shadow are to be adjusted next with clone or spot heal tools. Optimally blend the elements to impart a neat look.


If the face has been damaged in a manner that cloning is impossible, you can copy facial aspects from another photo of same subject. It tests your skills and patience. Companies offering photo restoration and repair services house professionals specialized in the said.


Step 6

Most old pictures were tainted by hand to enhance the colour of subject’s body elements.  You can apply a fresh layer on photo’s top and then adjust the opacity to 50%. Take a brush and dab relevant colours on skin, hair and clothes of the person. After finalizing, merge the layers together.


Empowered with afore-discussed insights, you can now set out on restoring old photos on your own. Else if you want to outsource the task to any of the professional photo restoration companies, be smart enough to associate with the right one. Good luck!

Posted in:Photo Editing
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