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Restoring old photos
The topic for October was how to use PS/PE to restore an old photo.
We were in luck in that Bill Ellemor from Penfolk Publishing was able to come along and
give his presentation on how he restores photos.
So this article will begin with my limited understanding of image restoration and then
finish with Bill Ellemor’s expert comments and summary.
By the end of the article you may realise as I do now that restoring old photos may be best left to the experts. It is a steep learning curve to use the healing and the clone tools effectively.
Sources of information/disinformation
As usual, if you put the phrase “Photoshop image restoration” into Google, you will get
a variety of workflows to follow. Some of them that I found helpful are listed in the
Resources section shown below.
Here are a few web sites that I found that range from quick and easy to fairly detailed.
(1) http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-restore-old-damaged-photos/ – Quick and easy (our old friends from the world class Digital Photography School based here in
inspiration/pdfs/533/50_Restore_an_old_photograph.pdf?1375733223 – different kind of quick and easy.
(3) http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/digital-photo-restoration.htm – detailed and a lot to learn for just the one task. But worth it. What you learn here can be
applied to so many other PS/PE projects.
Let’s get started.
Outline of steps to follow to restore an old photo.
The following is from the Cambridge in Colour website with a few added bits from me:
(1) Scan the image with your scanner.
(2) Correct any fading: levels, curves, contrast and exposure level tools, and duplicate layers and blending modes.
(3) Correct any color casts: white balance, color balance and other color tools.
(4) Use spot healing tools to repair localized damage: clone stamp, healing brush and other selective editing.
Using your scanner
These days, a lot of printers are multi function and have a scanner built in. Or you can
use a stand alone scanner. Whichever you decide to use, now is the time for RTM (Read
the manual!). Failing that, pay your grand child to do it for you. And do an archival
backup as well (http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/archival-photo-backup.htm).
The image that I am using is a photo from the editor’s collection of family photos. This
one was taken in 1934 in Sydney and was meant to be used as a post card.
Image 1 – family photo faded a bit and with a blotch on it.
These are the settings that I used on my scanner:
- resolution set to 600 dpi,
- bit depth set to 16 bits/channel,
- saved as a TIFF file (if possible),
- scan in full colour.
- The main aim is to get as big a file as possible.
I saved the image to my originals folder and then copied it to use as a working file in
What do I want to do with it?
Now is the best time to decide on the final format (digital/print) and size and resolution.
(1) Do I want to use it on the web? If so, then I only need to set the image resolution
to 72 dpi.
(2) Do I want to print it – newspaper (150 dpi), paper (300 dpi) or glossy magazine (600
What size do I want the image to be?
I am starting with a 4″ X 6″ photo. If I use increments of 110% to increase the size, I
can do this three times and not lose any quality. The fourth time gets a bit iffy. The
screen shot below shows the settings that I used to increase the image size from a 4″ x
6″ photo up to about 9″ x 6″ using the 110% method four times. The down side is that the
file size increased from 4 MB to 36 MB.
Image 2 – Settings for 110%.
Remember that you can always easily come down from a large size to a smaller size
without loss of detail. That’s why we all have cameras on our phones that go up to 42
When you want to go from a small photo to make it bigger, you are limited to this idea
of 110% increments used only three or four times to increase the size of an image that
is starting off small.
So the main things to remember are to (1) scan at the highest resolution, and (2) to save it as a Tiff file format if your scanner allows that. Otherwise, settle for jpg format. Once
the file is open in PS/PE, you will be able to save it as a Tiff file.
What do I do next? Figure out what needs to be done.
Well, we have scanned the image, made a copy of it to work with, and saved the original
and decided on the final output. Which will be to print a larger image in this case.
When I look at the image, I see some fading and a blotch from a coffee/tea spill (on the right side at shoulder level).
So the global adjustment can be improved using an adjustment layer. I made a copy of the image (Control + J) and then set the blend mode to multiply. And that seemed to be all that I needed to do. Now it looks like this in Photoshop. The coffee/tea splotch is circled in red. And the blend mode is shown with the green rectangle.
Image 3 – layer copy and set to multiply blend node.
Now let’s go to work on that splotch. First I’ll try the Spot Healing Brush Tool. Here is my first attempt. Very discouraging.
Image 4 – Spot Healing Brush Tool does not work.
Time to go back and read the instructions. I missed the step where you add a new blank layer. These are the steps to follow to get rid of the splotch:
(1) Click on Layer/New/Layer to create a new blank layer at the top of your layers.
(2) Make sure that it is the active layer. If it is not selected, then just click on it to make it active.
(3) Click on the Spot Healing Brush Tool to make it active. Set your brush size to about 80 pixels. This part is a bit of trial and error.
(4) Click and drag with the mouse to use several strokes to cover over the splotch. Now it looks like this.
Image 5 – Using the brush to paint over the splotch.
(5) Let go of your mouse button.
(6) Prepare to be amazed! Your computer goes to work and after a short time shows you the cleaned up photo. Here is the final result.
Image 6 – Version 2 Restored Image.
Summary from a beginner’s view.
I had no idea of the time and pains taking work involved in photo restoration. I take my hat off to those who have the patience to do it. I am not one of them as I have found out with this month’s topic.
Summary from expert Bill Ellemor of Penfolk Publishing
Bill Ellemor made the following points during his presentation.
(1) Remember GIGO. Garbage In gives you Garbage Out. You must use a high quality photo as your starting point. You can’t make a silk purse out of a Sow’s ear.
(2) STUDY the image
- what issues do you have to deal with?
- decide how to proceed based on this
(3) TOOLS for the job
- main tools: spot healing brush, healing brush, clone
(4) TOUCH UP easy areas first
- background spaces
- minor blemishes
- small areas of damage
(5) REPAIR smaller, less damaged areas
(6)REPAIR major, more intricate damaged areas
ALWAYS keep in mind that you must avoid compromising the integrity of the image itself, especially where detail has to be repaired or replaced—it is better to leave damage in place if you cannot reinstate it satisfactorily.
Unfortunately, you needed to be there for Bill’s presentation to see his amazing skill as he showed us how two photos were restored.
A big thank you to Bill Ellemor from Penfolk Publishing for his presentation on how to restore old photographs with PS/PE.
And remember that if you are thinking about doing your family history, keep Bill Ellemor in mind to publish it for you.
That’s all folks!