This tutorial is designed to help novice photo restorers learn how to unleash the power of photo repair software.
NOTE: We will use Adobe Photoshop as our reference software while discussing the use of photo restoration tools and methods, because it is the industry standard. However, many much cheaper photo repair software packages offer a number of the required tools. Corel Paintshop works great too.
Start with whatever photo fixing software you can afford, and upgrade if you decide that you would like to do more challenging restorations. Use software that is specifically designed for photo restoration. It needs to include these basic tools and filters: Clone Tool, Crop Tool, Sharpening Filter, Dust and Scratch Filter, Color Correction, Saturation Correction, Lightness Darkness Correction.
The software you choose should have tools and filters which are adjustable by the user. It is desirable that the software also offers a preview of the changes as you make them. For example, you should be able to select a tool such as Sharpen, and then be able to add more or less sharpening and see the effect on the photo in real time.
And of course your software should be able to undo any change made to the photo.
Selecting suitable photos in need of restoring
So you found a shoe box full of old family photos that you want to restore. You should be able to restore many of your photos yourself.
To start out you will want to select an easy subject. Look for a photo that is in pretty good condition. It should not have damage to important areas such as the face. It should be in good focus and not too dark or too light. It should have a small amount of dust and scratches to be repaired. It’s best to choose a black and white photo so that you don’t need to deal with color shifts or color damage.
Getting a digital copy of the photo into the computer
Photo repair software packages work with digital photo images. The first thing you will need to do, is obtain a good scan copy of the photo you wish to restore.
Scan at 300 dpi or choose high photo quality or whatever your scanner suggests for scanning photos.
Scan all photos in color including black and white photos. You will convert to black and white during the restoration process.
Scan the photo only, and not the entire scanner bed. The final scanned photo should not have a lot of white space around it. You can do this in your scanner preview window if necessary. Use your mouse to move the dotted lines to each side of the photo before scanning.
You could make adjustments to such things as contrast, color, sharpness, etc. using the scanner tools, but it is usually better to use your photo restoration software instead. So turn off all enhancements before scanning a photo. However, if you have a very dark photo you may want to try to lighten it up in the scanner preview window before scanning.
Inspecting a photo to determine what needs to be fixed
Open the digital photo file in your photo restoration program and have a good look at it.You want to identify defects which need to be repaired. Large cracks will be quite obvious, but if you look carefully, you should also find many finer defects.
Biggie Size your photo
Make sure that you size the photo as large as possible in a maximized program window while working on it. In Photoshop use Fit to Screen. And you may want to try the Full Screen Mode (Select “View” at the top tool bar, select “Screen Mode” then “Full Screen Mode”) Press “Esc” to get back to the normal Photoshop window.
Your software should allow you to zoom in and out and move around in an image in order to review small sections at a time. Zoom in to 100 % or more to see all of the defects to be repaired.
In Photoshop, hold down the keyboard “Ctrl” key and press the “+” key to zoom in or the “–” key to zoom out.
With the photo zoomed in you will need to be able to move around the photo. Hold the keyboard Space bar key down, then press and hold the left mouse button down while moving the mouse pointer. This will allow you to move around the photo while zoomed in.
Zooming in on an image is required for the restoration process. You can’t see the small defects unless you zoom. Minor defects are greatly magnified if you attempt to print larger than the original photo size. So the more defects you can find and eliminate, the better your prints will be.
Dust and Scratch Filter
Applying the “Dust and Scratch” filter will reduce the amount of dust, scratches, and grain in the photo. Use this filter sparingly because it will also soften the image as well. In many cases it is best to wait until you have finished all repairs before using the filter.
The one exception would be a photo which shows a large number of dust and or scratch defects. You will want to try to filter out some of these defects in order to reduce the amount of restoration work required.
In Photoshop you will find the filter under the tool bar icon. Select “Noise then “Dust & Scratches”.
Select a low Radius of about 1 and a threshold of about 12.
Zoom in on an important part of the photo such as a face, before applying the filter. Try a low setting as suggested above and review the results. If there is still a lot of dust and scratches, undo the change and run the filter again at a higher setting. Experiment until you achieve an image with fewer defects.
However, you need to check important detail, such as the eyes, to make sure that you don’t go too far. If the eyes start to loose a lot of detail you need to back up a bit. The idea is to strive for a balance between defect reduction and retention of sharpness. You are not trying to remove all defects but only the worse ones. The rest will be repaired later by extensive use of one of Photoshop’s repair tools.
In Photoshop you can un-do and re-do the previous change by pressing “Ctrl” Z.
Repair dust, scratches and cracks – using a tablet pen
(If you plan to use a mouse please skip to the next section.)
The most efficient and easiest way to repair dust, scratches and cracks is to use a graphics tablet and a version of Photoshop which supports the Spot Healing Brush Tool with “Content-Aware”. Using a tablet pen is very intuitive, fast, and much easier to use than a mouse. The new Content-Aware feature of the Spot Healing Brush Tool makes this the tool of choice for most photo repair situations.
You can do photo restoration work with a mouse and an older version of Photoshop (or other software), however you should not use the Spot Healing Brush Tool unless it is Content-Aware. The regular Healing Brush Tool or Clone Stamp Tool can be used with very good results but using these tools will take longer and they are more difficult to use effectively.
To start using the Spot Healing Brush Tool open the photo to be repaired in Photoshop and Zoom in on the photo to about 100% or so before you start to work on it. Hold the “Ctrl” key down and press “+” to increase the photo zoom and “Ctrl” “-“ to reduce the zoom.
Select the Spot Healing Brush Tool and make sure Content-Aware is turned on. Click the seventh item down and select “Spot Healing”.
Adjust the Tool’s brush size so that it is a bit larger than the scratch or defect you want to repair. To do this click the Brush Picker Button which is the black dot at the top left of the Photoshop screen. You can also use the keyboard to reduce and to increase the brush size.
With the Spot Healing Brush Tool selected you can simply trace over the defects using a graphics tablet pen. To fix smaller defects such as dust, you just need to click the area with the pen.
Photoshop will sample the pixels next to the defect and replace damaged pixels with good pixels. It does a very good job, however, you may need to make fine adjustments. This might require that you make one or more passes in and around the area to be fixed. If the repair is unnoticeable while zoomed in you have succeeded.
This tool works great for most repair situations but there will be occasions were you will need to resort to the Clone Stamp Tool. Do this if important detail will be lost or distorted, if the defect is very wide, or there is no good area close to the defect for Photoshop to calculate an acceptable repair.
To use the “Clone Stamp Tool click the ninth item down and select “Stamp Tool”. For usage instructions please see below.
You can always undue your last change if a change makes thing worse by pressing Ctrl or use the History tab to undo a number of changes.
Move up the list of change points and select a better previous state.
Repair dust, scratches and cracks – using a mouse
The most efficient and easiest way to repair scratches and cracks is to use a graphics tablet and a version of Photoshop which supports the Spot Healing Brush Tool with “Content-Aware”. Using a tablet pen is very intuitive, fast, and much easier to use than a mouse. The new Content-Aware feature of the “Spot Healing Brush Tool” makes this the tool of choice for photo repair. Do not use the “Spot Healing Brush Tool” unless it is Content-Aware use the “Healing Brush Tool” instead.
1) Select the Spot Healing Brush Tool by clicking the seventh item down and select “Spot Healing”. Make sure that Content-Aware is turned on.
2) Select the Healing Brush Tool by clicking the seventh item down and select ” Healing Brush”.
3) Select the Clone Stamp Tool by clicking the ninth item down and select ” Clone Stamp”.
Adjust the Tool’s brush size so that it is a bit larger than the scratch or defect you want to repair and continue to re-adjust as necessary when zooming in or out. Adjust the hardness to about 80%. To make these changes click the Brush Picker Button which is the black dot at the top left of the Photoshop screen. You can also use the keyboard to reduce and to increase the brush size.
Using the Spot Healing Brush Tool with Content-Aware
If your Spot Healing Brush Tool has Content-Aware you can simply trace over the defects using the mouse pointer. To fix smaller defects such as dust, you just need to click the area with the pointer.
Photoshop will sample the pixels next to the defect and replace damaged pixels for good pixels. It does a very good job, however, you may need to make fine adjustments. This might require that you make one or more passes in and around the area to be fixed. If the repair is unnoticeable while zoomed in you have succeeded.
This works great for most repair situations but there will be occasions were you will need to resort to the Clone Stamp Tool. Do this if important detail will be lost or distorted, if the defect is very wide, or there is no good area close to the defect for Photoshop to calculate an acceptable repair.
If you don’t have Content-Aware use the Healing Brush Tool instead combined with the Clone Stamp Tool as required.
It’s best to use the Healing Brush Tool for general repairs to areas of the photo which do not contain fine detail or sharp edges. This tool is good for repairing areas which contain patterns but it should not be used next to any sharp lines or at the photo’s edges. It can be used for the majority of dust and scratch repairs. Use the Clone Stamp Tool for fine detail, sharp lines and areas near the photo’s edges.
Using the Healing Brush Tool or Clone Stamp Tool
Once you have selected the tool you wish to use, select an area of good detail close to the defect with which Photoshop can use to replace the defect with. The area selected should be as close to the defect area in color and pattern as possible. Select just above, below or beside the defect.
To select the area of good detail to be used, move the mouse pointer the the spot you want to select, press and hold the “Alt” key down then press the left mouse button.
Once you make a selection using the “Alt” key, hold the left mouse button down and look at the mouse pointer area. You will see a circle and a plus sign. The circle is the pointer (or brush) that you run over the defect to be repaired. The plus sign is the area of the photo that you selected by pressing the “Alt” key. Practice selecting different areas until you are able to select exactly the good area you want to use to paint over the defect.
You will need to continuously re-select the area of good detail to be used using the Alt key, because each scratch or line is different. You may be able to use the same selection for a number of scratches if they run in the same direction for example. With a bit of practice you will be able to make better selections and work faster.
To make the repair, simply move the mouse pointer to the defect you want to repair, hold the left mouse button down and trace over the defect releasing the mouse button when finished. Repeat for each defect. If you get unexpected results it means that you need to re-select the good area to use by using the “Alt” key.
To fix smaller defects such as dust you just need to click the defect after pressing Alt.
Photoshop will sample the pixels next to the defect and replace damaged pixels with good pixels. It does a good job, however, you may need to make fine adjustments. This might require that you make one or more passes in and around the area to be fixed. If the repair is unnoticeable while zoomed in you have succeeded.
You can undue your last change if it makes thing worse by pressing Ctrl or use the History tab to undo a number of changes made. Move up the list of change points and select a better previous state.
There are many other issues to be resolved when dealing with old damaged photos such as missing detail, contrast, color shift, dark photos, light photos, sharpening, etc. We will cover some of these in future tutorials.
I hope this article helps you get started.