View Full Version : Photo Restoration

10-31-2013, 02:00 PM
The holidays are coming, and much to my chagrin, it means my freelance work slows down until after the first of the year! I wish I had done this when the kids were small, but now, with everyone grown, I'm not crazy about NOT being busy.

One project I want to work on is restoring some old family photos. I haven't done any restoration work in years, so I'm wondering if anyone has any ideas, advice and techniques they would like to share on the subject.


10-31-2013, 03:51 PM
I really haven't done much but when I do , I work with Photoshop. Can't give you any ideas on how because I just play. I do a lot of noise clean up with the healing brush and try and bring out details with camera raw. Even if the photo is not in raw you can do a lot there. But as I said , I just kind of play . Sorry I can't help much.

10-31-2013, 05:47 PM
Here's a restoration I did for my mom. As you can see the original photo was in very bad shape and restoring it took every tool and skill in my arsenal.

First, I scanned the original photo into Photoshop at 1200 DPI. I kept the scan in full color even though the original photo was a sepia tone.


Since the original photo was in very bad shape I had my work cut out for me. Using Photoshop's "Clone" tool I removed the circular artifacts and using the "Paint Brush" tool I painted over the scratches. I also used the "Paint Brush" tool to paint in the missing corner and remove the torn edges. This step is by far the most time consuming because it was ALL manually executed in order to retain the realistic look of the photo. I did not use any automated filters in this step because they would ultimately make the resulting image look doctored and/or fake. Stay away from filters when removing or painting over imperfections.

Additionally, choose your brush style very carefully. In this restoration I utilized Photoshop's standard "Spatter" and "Chalk" brushes to paint over the imperfections. I chose these brushes because they inherently have a bit of "noise" in them so the resulting stroke more naturally blended into the photo. If I would have used a traditional round brush the stroke would have stood out because it's nature is to lay down a completely flat area of color with no noise. I also painted with 50% transparency so I could "build" up the color with multiple strokes while going over the same area. I found this gave a more realistic look then just laying down a 100% opaque stroke. Keep in mind that there were times when I used the "Clone" tool to paint over imperfections because the texture it retained was much better than painting over the imperfection with the "Brush" tool. Just use your best judgement as to which tool to use and trust your instincts.


I focused on removing the text at the bottom of the photo in this step. This process was a bit more complicated due to the unnatural forms that letters create. For example, it's not that hard to touch up a tree because the leaves and bark have a random texture that can easily be replicated by using random strokes with the "Brush" or "Clone" tools. However, when removing letters in a precise manner it's very easy to see the "impression" of the letter even after it's been touched up. Great care must be taken to completely eliminate the mechanical nature of the touch up thus preventing any unsightly strokes that may still look like letters.

In this case there was a definite "perspective" to the hard wood floor that I needed to match. I just couldn't paint over the letters and expect the result to look convincing because the perspective would have been missing. Great care was taken to replicate the texture of the hardwood floor as well as the perspective of the individual boards.

Regardless, you can still see some imperfections in my touch up of this area. At this stage the result is not 100% complete so these minor differences are not that serious.


At this stage I decided to "upgrade" the texture and look of the hardwood floor because I felt it was lacking some much needed definition. However, even though I was adamant about adding some depth into the floor I had no idea on how to do this.

Initially I tried drawing a vertical line with the "Brush" tool and then transforming it with the "Perspective" tool so it matched the existing perspective of the floor but I found that the resulting lines were either too light or too bold. What I needed was a line that was in between the results I was getting from Photoshop's tools.

After many hours of trying to find a technique that matched what was in my mind's eye I decided to draw the lines in Illustrator and export them into Photoshop. To do this I imported the current image into Illustrator and turned it into a template. I then drew the lines keeping sure I retained the existing perspective. Once the lines were drawn I played with the thickness of the lines until I was satisfied and then I exported them into Photoshop. Voila! Success!!! The Illustrator lines were perfect.

Once the Illustrator lines were imported into Photoshop and layered over the image I had to remove the parts of the lines that overlapped objects that should be in the foreground. I did this by adding a layer mask to the lines layer and meticulously painting over the foreground areas. I used a basic, soft round brush with the "Brush" tool for painting in the layer mask.

Additionally, I faded the lines towards the back of the room to reinforce the depth of the photo. If I would have kept the back of the lines at the same opacity as the front of the lines I would have killed any sense of realism I might have achieved up to this point.


At this stage you'll notice that my grandfather's right leg is missing. It was torn off in the original photo and needs to be added back into the image. The question is, how do I do this?

I started by roughly painting in the leg on it's own layer so I could get a sense of size, position and direction. Once I had a rough version of his leg I used my creative license to copy/paste existing parts of the image into my grandfather's new leg. For example, I needed to replicate the texture of his suit so instead of spending hours upon hours trying to match it with the "Brush" tool I just selected an area of his suit with the "Lasso" tool, copied it and pasted it into his leg. I did this multiple times and tweaked each instance until I successfully mimicked the texture of his new leg while adhering to existing perspective and light direction. I did use the "Brush" tool in multiply mode to add or modify shadows and folds.

Basically, my grandfather's new leg is a mish mash of existing parts of the photo. These parts have been tweaked to fit the position I wanted with brush work layered on top to blend everything together. If you look hard enough you will find where I "borrowed" his leg parts from.

Additionally, I had to tweak the color and saturation of all of these parts so they matched my grandfather's suit color. Surprisingly, the color correction process was the most time consuming part of this step.


At this stage the photo is nearly finished. The only thing left to do is to blend everything together so the image doesn't look like it's been restored. To do this I added some Gaussian noise over the whole image with he "Noise" filter. Not too much just enough to blend everything together. Once I added the noise I desaturated the image and tweaked the levels to make the values pop. Once this was done I added a touch of color back into to photo to give it a slight sepia feel.

Finsihed. :) :thumbsup:


11-01-2013, 05:15 PM
Impressive! thanks so much for the walk through. I was recently going through some old photos and have some that I want to attempt, Thanks!

11-02-2013, 11:27 AM
Oh, boy, this really makes me want to get started! Thanks Vince!
I hadn't thought of drawing the lines in Illustrator and bringing them back into Photoshop. I'm thinking you can do the same thing with the pen tool in photoshop? Vince, I'm curious what is the difference there? Frankly, I don't find myself using Illustrator much anymore, so I don't keep up on it as I should.

11-02-2013, 11:50 PM
I hadn't thought of drawing the lines in Illustrator and bringing them back into Photoshop. I'm thinking you can do the same thing with the pen tool in photoshop? Vince, I'm curious what is the difference there?


You are correct about being able to use the "Pen" tool in Photoshop to draw the lines but I've found that Illustrator just offers more precision with vector based tools, especially with the CS2 suite of programs I was using at the time. Photoshop's drawing/vector tools are decent but they just didn't offer the precise control that Illustrator did.

Ultimately, I don't think it really matters what program the artist uses as long as they find a technique that matches the vision in their mind's eye. I say use whatever tool works for you. :thumbsup:

11-03-2013, 11:13 AM
Thanks for the clarification on the vector lines, Vince. In the years that I'm working with the creative suite, more and more vector work can be done in photoshop, and more art can be done in Indesign. I'm using more photos, and less clip art, so in my advertising design work, I rarely need to go to Illustrator anymore.
Amen to whatever works for you. Even within one program - particularly photoshop- there are about 3 ways to do everything. Years ago, I worked for companies that had multiple graphics people, and there was always someone arguing over one technique or another. It's interesting to see how others approach a challenge, but it is certainly not the only way.