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Do you need to restore an old family photo that has been damaged? Well, this old photo restoration guide can help you get started on the process to make the image look as good as new.
Old photos of great sentimental value are often found crumpled or damaged. The process of old photo restoration is not difficult.
No matter how damaged photos are, there are always ways to restore them to their former glory. Further, if you want to go one step further, black and white photos can be retouched and colored using modern technology.
Even those people who don’t know much about photo editing can use simple editing softwares to enhance and improve photo quality. Along with this, you can hire professional photo retouchers and photo restoration services to help you out.
Today, we will talk about 5 such simple ways for old photo restoration.
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Top 5 Ways of an Old Photo Restoration
Making a digital of an old damaged photo is easy. Either capture it closely in a high resolution camera or use a scanner to scan the image. Once you have made a digital copy, the further process of an old photo restoration becomes easier. All you will need next are photo editing softwares like Adobe Lightroom or Photo.
Do not forget to make several backup copies of the digital photo.
5. Healing Feature
For spots, the ‘healing’ feature denoted by a sign that looks like crossed bandages. The healing feature is great at fixing small spots. It copies pixels from immediate neighboring areas and duplicates them to omit small marks.
This photo editing tool can even omit fold line and tear lines. This feature will omit many spots and unnecessary lines on the image. However, it can cause discoloration which can be corrected later easily. Using this feature in black and white images is easier.
How to use the Healing feature for old photo restoration:
- After you open your photo editing software and bring up the image you want, click on the tools options. This will open up the tool menu.
- Click on the healing option a further select spot healing for normal, small spots, or the brush healing option if it is a line that is to be omitted.
- Now, click or drag the cursor over the spot or the line and the photo editor will smartly remove the line for you and blend it in with the surrounding.
The healing feature can also be used to remove imperfections on the skin (pimples, small rashes, etcetera). If used properly, the healing feature can remove the finest of imperfections.
Rarely, the healing function will not work as expected and you will have to redo or use another method to get the perfect result.
4. Clone Stamp Tool
The clone stamp tool is very similar to the healing tool yet it offers the user more precision and control. Unlike the healing tool, the clone stamp tool does not duplicate the neighboring pixels to make a flaw blend in and disappear. Rather, it sources pixels from anywhere in the image to pate them on the desired areas.
The clone stamp tool is to be used for old photo restoration when you have to add minute details and improve the damaged photo. In order to start, add a new layer to the image where you can keep the edits and the image separate while experimenting. Do not forget to lock the layer so that it remains aligned with the original background.
How to use the clone stamp tool for old photo restoration:
- After creating a new layer, select the clone stamp tool from the options menu.
- With the tool selected, specify the sample area from where you want to source pixels.
- In most photo editing softwares, the clone stamp tools come with an inbuilt preview which you can see by hovering your cursor above the desired area after following the aforementioned steps.
- Now, click and drag the cursor across the area you want to modify and improvise. While you are doing so, a small black crosshair will indicate the source area for the pixels.
The clone stamp tool is used to cover up objects or bigger imperfections with precision. It is the perfect tool to work around minor details.
However, while brushing over, some details from the source area may get copied over. The simple solution for this is too use a finer variant of the brush and omit these using the same tool. This can be tricky considering many old photos are black and white.
Another similar tool is the ‘Patch’ tool. This feature is a bit complicated and difficult to master. However, this is a very good tool to remove large objects convincingly. It also can keep a natural background where an object was deleted. Further, this tool can also be used to smoothen out uneven areas.
The patch tool is extremely helpful when you have to take care of smudges and imperfections that are on the main item. This is because the healing feature can cause discoloration and the clone stamp tool may not look convincing. This is a great tool to hide imperfections and blend it in with the neighboring areas.
Both of these tools use Content-Aware technology to give better results. These two tools get a lot of things done in the process of old photo restoration.
We would suggest taking short ten-minute tutorials on how to use these features. These are easily available on the support page of any photo editing software.
After having removed creases and spots from the picture, it may still look a bit unnatural. There are several subtle ways to make the image look smoother and more natural.
- Increase the brightness of the image. Sometimes the photo collects dust or the paper quality degrades over time. In this case, increase the brightness of the image according to your liking. The brightness option is available in the ‘Adjustments’ menu.
However, do not increase the brightness too much or the image will end up looking even more unnatural.
- Try to increase the contrast. Usually, old photo restoration becomes difficult due to the photo being black and white. Increasing the contrast can help you a lot with this. The difference between the black and white becomes more distinct in hazy areas. This tool is also found in the ‘Adjustments’ tool.
However, use contrast very precisely. Only increase it if the image is very hazy or else further editing will become very difficult.
- Blur the unnatural looking things a bit. Blurring can help smoothen out things or hide some small imperfections in the photo. For example, a crease line refuses to fade completely by any of the mentioned tools, blurring that part slightly will help a lot. After doing the major changes, use the blur feature to further make the digital image clearer.
However, the blur feature should only be used when it is not interfering with the main item on that image. If really necessary, blur the main item as less as possible. Using this feature is tricky. It can be found in the ‘Retouch’ menu.
- Try sharpening the main item. When the main item on the image is already a bit blur, use the sharpening tool to make it clearer to see. The process of old photo restoration becomes way easier when the image becomes clearer.
This tool is best used to smoothen out imperfections on the main item without causing much damage to it.
Note: This tool does not reverse the ‘blur’ effect mentioned earlier and is completely independent.
- Reduce shadows is also another feature used in the process of old photo restoration. When you have increased the brightness already yet some parts are black and increasing brightness will make the image look unnatural, use this feature.
This feature specifically only lightens the dark parts of the image. As usual, overdoing this can also make the image look very weird and unnatural.
- Adjust the ‘temperature’ of the image. Sometimes, the paper quality is the photo degrades over time due to atmosphere and humidity. The photo becomes very yellow or very blue. You cannot revert this damage physically but a digital image has no such limitations.
If the image is yellow, try reducing the temperature and increasing it if it has become. Only adjust as much is needed.
Fun Fact: This feature can also be used to make a picture look old or vintage.
2. Colorize the Black and White Photos
Most of the old photos are black and white. The lack of color in these images limits the amount of editing you can do to restore them. Hence, it is time to take this to a whole new level.
[Note: You do not need a high resolution image for this but let the mage be a perfect black and white image before starting this.]
Colorization is a great step for old photo restoration. Now, here is where things get just a bit complicated. All the major flaws like noticeable crease marks, spots, yellowness, brightness are taken care of. Though it is slightly more difficult than any of the previous ways, it is certainly not impossible.
To start, make sure you have two layers open in your photo editing software- the background and another layer over it. Now, search up a similar digital image that is already colorized. For example, when colorizing a picture of a young boy, try to get an image of another young boy who has the same skin tone as the boy in the old photo did. Take this image and put it in layer two. We need this image to form a color palette.
Now, use the stock image to sample colors and form a color palette to be used to colorize the black and white image. Be sure to sample colors from both the lighter and the darker parts of the image to make the picture you are going to paint more realistic or natural. When you have a palette ready, you can move the new image to trash.
However, if you do not want things to get too complicated, you can choose colors to use while you are editing the image. You can try and estimate the color of the skin or any item and go along with it. Do not worry, you can change the color after painting it.
Now, you will have to create a new layer for every item you are colorizing. For example, a layer for the skin, a layer for hair, another for a jacket, etc. This is because you need a new layer for every color you want to add. Choose ‘solid color’ in the add layer menu and choose the color you want to add. Keep the ‘blend mode’ of the layer to ‘soft light’.
A white box will appear right before to the name of the layer. Click it and press ‘Control + I’ for windows or ‘Command + I’ for Mac to make it black. By doing this, you can paint on the picture. Select the brush tool and its size and start painting. Zoom in on the area you want to paint to make it easier. Repeat the process for every item. In the end, merge all layers. The process of old photo restoration is almost done.
You can also use free online one-click tools but they can be very unreliable and then again, where’s the fun in that?
Here is a detailed tutorial for old photo restoration:
1. Hire professional restoration services
Some photos are damaged beyond what a common man can restore. For this, several photo retouchers offer old photo restoration services. These photo retouchers and services can fix any photo, no matter the damage. However, their prices increase with more imperfections.
All you need to do is mail them a digital image of your photo and wait for the restored photo to arrive. Usually, there is no need for high resolution images for this.
However, taking the time to learn a skill is never wasted. Using our own efforts and time to fix and restore images of our ancestors or our history makes them even more special and dear to us. What can be a better way to pay homage to our forefathers than to improve their literal image in today’s world?