Your Old Photos
Vezina offers step-by-step instructions for photo restoration.
through old family photos and memorabilia, I came across a
photo of my ggrandmother’s family. Taken in Scotland
in 1904, it is a portrait of my gggrandfather, D. McLeod,
and his six children after the death of his wife. Seeing as
this photo provides an important piece of my family history
and the traditional clothing is an excellent portrayal of
my Scottish heritage, I decided to restore the photo’s
cracks and tears, making it suitable for display.
1. The original photograph.
To start this restoration I scanned in the photo using an
Agfa Duoscan flatbed scanner. Since the printer I would be
using to output prints at 300 dpi (dots per inch) and I would
be doubling the size of my original, I scanned at 600 dpi.
By doing this and using the low sharpen adjustment (medium
or high tends to cause an excessively grainy result), I ensured
that the end result would be of equal or better quality than
the original. I also enabled the brighten midtones and
shadows adjustment on the scanner options to ensure that
the dark areas in the photo did not fill in with black.
The next step in photo restoration is to open up the scanned
image in the application of your choice. Although too expensive
for casual users, the industry standard for photo retouching
over the past several years has been Adobe Photoshop. Most
scanners come packaged with a limited edition of this application,
or other comparable programs. Although they may lack some
of the filters or options of high-end imaging software, programs
like Adobe Photodeluxe, Picture It!, Photopaint, and Printhouse
have the basic tools required for retouching family photos.
While you’re working on an image, contend with one problem
at a time and follow it through to completion before beginning
another. Assess your retouching at intervals and take breaks
when you find you’re losing patience.
2.1 A proper clone.
2.2. A repeating pattern.
2.3. Brush too large.
Your primary concerns when starting a photo should be to confirm
that you’ve scanned the photo at a high enough resolution
and to ensure that you are only retouching areas you will
print in the final image. If the photo is black and white
and you’ve scanned it in color, applying Mode~Grayscale
will cut your file size by 75 percent thereby making it smaller
and quicker to work on. Your first step should be to crop
the photo down to size by using the crop tool and sizing it
with the Image Size command.
The next step to retouching this image would be to complete
missing areas by filling in the torn corners. By using the
clone (or rubber stamp) tool you can “drag” existing
areas out to the corners. A properly cloned area (figure 2.1)
will have no signs of retouching, where the patterns and textures
appear realistic. Make sure not to create a repeating pattern
(figure 2.2) by cloning from a source area too close to the
target. Using too small a brush will take you a long time
to complete the area, while you must ensure not too use so
large a brush that details become overlapped and blurry (figure
2.3). The clone tool is by far the most useful tool for restoring
photos, but it can be an extremely tedious task to use it
in the removal of the scores of dust spots you will encounter
on your photo.
Most image-editing applications contain a dust and scratches
filter which will, when set to the appropriate level, remove
most small spots while maintaining sharpness and detail (figure
3). If this filter is not available, often a blur filter will
do the trick. Play around with different filters at different
settings until you reach the desired effect, remembering that
you’re not going to remove larger spots with a filter,
just most of the smaller dust spots. The key areas to watch
for sharpness when gauging your filter are the subjects’
eyes and clothing fabric.
3. Dust and Scratches removes spots.
4. Select the smudged area and add noise.
Now the photo is ready for its most tedious and time-consuming,
yet visually rewarding, retouching sequence. Using the clone
tool you should individually remove every blemish on the photo.
Start by retouching the background while gradually moving
inward onto the subjects, leaving the hardest maneuvers for
the end. Replace damaged areas with detail from nearby and
experiment with different brush sizes. Remember to avoid repeating
patterns and try to maintain the attributes and proportions
of the original. Sometimes an area that is heavily retouched
will look unrealistic because it does not have the same level
of graininess as the surrounding area. You can remedy this
problem by selecting the area with the lasso tool (at a feather
of 10) and applying Filter~Noise~Add Noise to the
area (figure 4). This will not make a perfect match, but it
will permit a consistent grain across surrounding areas.
5.1. A scrape covers the right eye.
5.2. Copy the right eye over the left.
5.3. Merge the two layers.
If you encounter an area that is completely missing, or is
so heavily damaged that it seems beyond repair, the clone
tool may not suffice. You then must re-create that area through
one of three methods. Most commonly, the damaged area is replaceable
with a compatible piece from the same photo. Figure 5.1 shows
a close-up of my ggrandmother’s face, which has a large
blemish over her left eye. To repair this, you would make
a selection around the right eye socket using the lasso tool,
then copy and paste this area onto another layer displaying
at 40-50 percent. Apply Layer~Free Transform; then
scale, flip, and rotate the copied eye so that it eclipses
where the left eye would be (figure 5.2). Turn the layer opacity
back to 100 percent and use the eraser tool with a soft brush
(35-45 pixels) to remove any outside or unrealistic areas,
and smooth the overall look of the transformation. Layer~Merge
Down will apply the copied eye onto the previous image,
where you can assess the finished product (figure 5.3). If
you do not have a compatible area in the same photo to copy
from, you may need to “steal” from another photo.
Often replacing someone’s face with one from another
image is a more time-efficient option than retouching a heavily-damaged
face. Although the procedure is different for every picture
depending on the angle, lighting, sharpness, et cetera; the
basic method is to copy the selected area from the donor image
onto the damaged photo, then to follow the steps outlined
above for the eye replacement. A third, yet rarely necessary
option, is to entirely create the missing pieces of the photo.
This method usually requires several attempts by an artistic
person who pays attention to lighting, shadows, texture, and
grain; while carefully using the paintbrush, clone, gradient,
dodge, burn, and other tools.
6.1. The original photo.
6.2. Increase the contrast slightly.
6.3. Too much contrast.
Now that all of the blemishes and imperfections are removed
from the photo, you want to improve the overall quality of
the image. Since the photo appears a little gray (figure 6.1),
you should use the Image~Brightness/Contrast command
to increase the contrast slightly, while lightening it to
keep the dark areas from filling in black (figure 6.2). Too
strong of a contrast adjustment will create too many black
and white areas as opposed to a wide range of gray tones (figure
6.3). In order to sharpen the final image, you should apply
a mild sharpen filter that is intended to whet the details
of the image, not drastically change its appeal (figure 7).
If you want to make the photo a sepia tone, you can add red
and yellow to the image by applying Image~Color Balance
(figure 8) to the desired setting. Your end result should
be a blemish-free photo with greater sharpness and detail
than the original (figure 9); a wonderful conversation piece
for the mantle or family room wall.
7. Apply the sharpen filter.
8. Sepia toning a gray image.
At the end of retouching your photo and at intervals during
the process, you will need to save your image. Saving your
image as a TIFF file will maintain all file attributes including
the full file size; TIFF with LZW Compression is nearly half
the file size with wonderful detail; while JPEG files maintain
moderate quality at 5-7 percent of the working file size.
Output of digital images has been made easier with the prevalence
of personal ink-jet printers that can print on photo quality
glossy paper at high resolutions that appear photo-realistic.
Most full service labs and photographic bureaus offer a digital
output service where your digital image can be printed as
a continuous tone photograph in a variety of sizes for a reasonable
price. Hopefully, through experimentation of various tools
and brush sizes, as well as careful attention to detail, you
can restore your photos with the greatest of quality.
9. The fully restored photograph.
article originally appeared in the November/December 1999
issue of Family Chronicle.