Photoshop: Restoring Photos

Repairing old or damaged photos

This photo was given to me by a friend. It is only a portion of the full image, but you get the idea of the quality. It’s old and discoloured and suffered some damage.

yellowed and damaged old photo

Clearly this photo has seen better days. No idea what was stuck to the baby’s arm, toffee is my guess. Anyway, there is plenty to consider. Firstly I want to get rid of the yellowing of the photo, this can be resolved easily.  As this is a black and white photo we can take advantage of the desaturate function, (image/adjustment/desaturate). Don’t change the colour mode to greyscale – more on this in another tutorial.

photoshop adjustments menu

Great, that’s sorted that nasty yellowing.

old photo desaturated

So if we are going to restore this old photo we will need to get to work on the marks, scratches and that toffee blob. Choosing the right tool for the job is half the job done. This will come with experience and some tools work great on one image and not so great on another. I am going to attack that blob first and for this I will select the Patch tool.  You may not be able to see the Patch Tool so click and hold your mouse button on the whatever tool is visible to reveal the other tools hiding. See image below.

photo restortion tutorial image

Using the Patch Tool draw roughly around the blob.

damaged old photo

If your selection isn’t quite right, just click away and draw again.

photoshop tools for repairing damaged areas of photo

Next, click inside the selection and drag the selection up and over to a ‘clean’ area of the arm and let go.
The blob will vanish! Photoshop compares the two areas, understands that the selection contains something not in the targeted area and so combines the two areas, removing the blob in the process. To see how this works, try choosing a randomly targeted area, like the baby’s eye, then see the result.

The Patch Tool does a pretty good job. You may be lucky, it may do such a great job in one go or you may have to combine the use of different tools to finish the job. I tried the Patch Tool on the hole by the baby’s cheek. It didn’t work well at all. For this area, I am going to use the Clone Stamp, see image below.

photo restoration tutorial image

Careful with this tool. It can be brutal if you don’t set it right. You need a soft edge brush and size accordingly. Remember, you need to sample an area to clone first. Hold down ALT and click. The best method is to constantly re-sample areas so you are not cloning from one fixed point. I started in the area where the blanket meets the cheek – see the red lines.

showing damaged photo

photo damaged area
Once I had red-drawn this edge it made it easier to repair area on the cheek. Using the clone stamp and the patch tool to complete the repair. Practice, practice, practice! I have been a little vague with this tool as I will provide a more detailed walkthrough in another tutorial.

Try the different tools available and see the difference. The spot healing tool is great on spots! Remember to keep a soft edge to your brush.


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