Tips on Digital Photo Restoration

Digital photograph restoration can work miracles by turning a pale previous household portrait into a picture of seemingly trendy quality. Alternatively, this process can work in reverse to provide a photograph a timeless feel. Performing either of these transformations your self shouldn’t be as troublesome as it might seem — you simply have to know which restoration tools to make use of.

original scan of an old photograph

digitally restored photo

instance photograph restoration from a scanned print, circa 1900

Though photographs can degrade in quite a lot of ways, this often consists of some mixture of fading, shade casts (typically yellowish), and localized physical injury (similar to stains or scratches). Luckily, photograph modifying has just the correct instruments for every facet:

  1. Fading: ranges, curves, distinction and black degree tools
  2. Shade Casts: white stability, shade stability and different colour tools
  3. Localized Injury: clone stamp, healing brush and different selective modifying tools

Every of those might be discussed separately within the sections under, however earlier than that we have to focus on the scanner itself . . .


flatbed scanner

Earlier than any digital restoration might be performed, the original photograph (or movie adverse) needs to be scanned. This step is essential, because it finally determines your restoration’s potential. For sure, attempt to use one of the best scanning gear and software program at your disposal. Every part else being equal, flatbed scanners often provide a lot larger high quality than comparable sheetfed scanners.

Scanning Software. Typically whichever software came together with your scanner will work advantageous, especially since this caters to the capabilities of your specific system. Nevertheless, typically this may be too limiting, by which case Vuescan and Silverfast are two notable third-party decisions. Silverfast is sort of highly effective should you occur to have the movie damaging, while Vuescan is greater than adequate (and inexpensive) for printed pictures.

Scanner Settings. Pay specific consideration to the next:

  • Resolution. Typically, use a dot per inch (DPI) resolution of at the least 400-600 DPI for prints, and a number of other occasions this resolution with movie negatives. The chosen scanning resolution will rely on the sharpness and focus of the original pictures, but should ideally resolve the speckles of noise/grain in the print. Attempt experimenting with totally different settings in an effort to see what the picture seems to be like on-screen.
  • Precision. Scan on the highest bit depth attainable: 16-bits per channel or 48-bits in complete colour depth, if obtainable. This manner your digital unique can stand up to extra retouching before it begins to point out indicators of posterization.
  • File Sort. Save the scan as a TIFF file to maximise element preservation. If your scanner and software program help RAW/DNG (digital adverse) information then that is even higher.
  • Shade vs. B&W. Saving black and white photographs as grayscale image information can preserve disk area, but this isn’t the only consideration. A colour scan can typically make the restoration process simpler — even for a black and white picture — since colour makes it simpler to determine and take away stains which aren’t native to the photograph.
  • Movie Negatives. These present more flexibility — in case you are lucky sufficient to still have them. Nevertheless, negatives are sometimes extra prone to bodily injury, so typically the original photograph continues to be a better source. Regardless, you’ll need to both send the negatives off for professional drum scanning, or have a film unfavourable capable scanner.


Before any modifying, first save your unique scanned TIFF or RAW/DNG file, and preferably in multiple location. All subsequent modifying ought to be saved in a separate file. Restoration method, personal choice, meant use and imaging know-how all change — probably requiring a new restoration at a later date (with a photograph that has continued to degrade). See the tutorial on archival digital photograph backup.


Perhaps the only commonest form of degradation is fading. This causes the blacks to grow to be less darkish, and the whites to turn out to be much less mild. In other words: the photograph begins to lose contrast.

Luckily, this is additionally one of many more simple ageing artifacts to counteract. Probably the most universal device for fixing this is in all probability the levels software in Photoshop (and different picture modifying packages). Transfer your mouse over the earlier than and after labels under to see how the degrees device modifications the instance photograph:

Ranges Adjustment Software:
levels tool window

Typically, you’ll need to:
A) Transfer the black point to the fitting.
B) Transfer the white point to the left.
C) Shift the midpoint barely to adjust general brightness (if vital).

before and after levels tool contrast enhancementBeforeAfter

The image histogram needs to extend across as broad a variety of tones as attainable (from left to right above), but not so much that this detracts from the (presumed) temper of the unique photograph. For instance, many varieties of previous pictures never had absolutely black or white regions — even when brand new — giving these a softer and subtler look.

Other specific ideas on contrast-enhancement embrace:

layers window in photoshop - duplicate layers, luminosity blending and opacity
layers window in photoshop - adjustment layers
  • Duplicate Layers & Opacity. Perform any contrast modifications in a replica layer; that means the effect may be fine-tuned later utilizing the opacity slider.
  • Adjustment Layers. Alternatively, using adjustment layers is a fair better answer. This has the added advantages of minimizing the danger of posterization, permitting quick and straightforward re-adjustment and decreasing the overall file measurement. For contrast-enhancement in Photoshop, select “Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels…” from the highest menu.
  • Lightness Channel. You possibly can only improve distinction of shades (and not of colours) by performing adjustments on the lightness channel; in any other case this could inadvertently exacerbate colour casts, or change the general hue. If modifying in duplicate or adjustment layers, you possibly can achieve this by setting the blending mode to “luminosity.”
  • Automation. These sometimes work by stretching the picture histogram in order that it spans from the far left (black) to the far proper (white). The “auto contrast” and “auto levels” options are two widespread methods to realize this. While that is often fascinating for modern photographs, it might end in an excessive amount of distinction with an previous photograph.
  • Curves Software. This could provide even more specific changes, however is a little more troublesome to use and might be overkill for a lot of restorations. See the tutorial on the Photoshop curves software for more on this matter.

The identical tools of opacity, duplicate layers and adjustment layers are also helpful within the subsequent two sections . . .


Fading is one thing when it simply reduces contrast, nevertheless it will possibly turn out to be more durable to revive — and more ugly — if the photograph develops an unrealistic colour forged. This seems because the familiar “yellowing” of photographs — even in these from a couple of many years in the past.

old photo with a yellow color cast
color-corrected photo to remove yellow color cast

The higher portion of the white diaper was clicked on using the dropper software for the above correction.

Utilizing the “white balance dropper tool” is usually the simplest method since it has the potential to neutralize colour casts in a single step. Use the dropper software on a region which you consider to have been (i) mild neutral grey, (ii) receiving most of its illumination from the primary mild supply and (iii) not tinted by mild bouncing off close by colored objects.

However, typically there just isn’t an object which satisfies the above requirements — by which case you’ll have to resort to one of the following:

layers window in photoshop - duplicate layers, luminosity blending and opacity
layers window in photoshop - adjustment layers
  • Automated Correction. This attempts to remove shade casts not through the use of any particular region of a photo, however as an alternative by analyzing the picture as an entire. In Photoshop, two methods of attaining this are by choosing (i) “Auto Color” from the picture drop-down menu, or (ii) “snap neutral midtones” after clicking the “Options…” button within the levels device. Watch out although; many of these automated methods try and right each colour stability and distinction in a single step. As typical, edit in a replica layer in order that the impact may be decreased afterwards.
  • Guide Correction. This sometimes includes using the “color balance” (or equally named) device to tweak the general heat or coolness of a photo, or relative prevalence of magenta versus inexperienced. During adjustment, the picture is manually inspected till the overall colour stability is desirable.
color shift examples
More InexperiencedMore Magenta

Regardless, attaining just the best shade stability might be extremely subjective and there isn’t all the time one right answer. When unsure, it’s usually a good idea to err on the aspect of having a photograph that appears barely hotter versus cooler, or has slightly more magenta as opposed to green coloring. Experiment with the mouseover buttons under the image to the fitting to see for yourself.

Problems. Perhaps the most typical drawback is that previous photographs don’t all the time develop shade casts uniformly. This may be as a consequence of how the photograph was saved, or might even be a result of the chemistry of the photographic paper.

Non-uniform shade casts sadly complicate the correction course of because they require targeted changes. For example, if one shifted a photograph’s general colour stability to take away a yellow forged in the shadows, this is able to cause the midtones and highlights to seem bluish, or vice versa. In such instances, one needs to apply colour corrections selectively, both by specifying highlights or shadows inside this shade stability software, or by performing shade correction with the curves software on the individual colour channels.

Nevertheless, different occasions localized shade casts are brought on by stains — and never some gradual process affecting the complete image. In that case, one could be higher off just mixing or eradicating these regions totally, as mentioned within the subsequent section. . .


Previous photographs have probably incurred plenty of imperfections in the type of dust marks, rips or tears, stains, scratches and crinkles. These can distract from the image — notably if situated on or close to somebody’s face:

clone stamp and healing brush restoration example (before)Unique Scan
clone stamp and healing brush restoration example (after)
After Cloning & Healing Brush Instruments

Conservative restoration using only cloning and healing brush instruments; some imperfections nonetheless remain.
Move your mouse over the image on the appropriate to instantly examine before/after variations.

By far one of the best tools for eradicating these are the clone stamp and healing brush tools (in Adobe Photoshop and most different modifying software program). These are in truth the only two tools used to restore the above image. Every software has the following impact:

source and target regions for clone stamp or healing brusheffect of clone and healing brush1 = Source Region
2 = Target RegionClone StampHealing Brush
  • Clone Stamp Device. This works by changing the image content material in a goal area with a replica from a source area. That is most useful for situations the place that you must absolutely reconstruct all characteristics of a source area, comparable to when removing a big tear or duplicating a repeating object or sample.
  • Healing Brush Device. This also works by replacing the content material in a target region with that from a source area, except it only replaces texture — while preserving the original colour and luminosity. Regardless that much less is being changed, this typically truly makes the therapeutic brush a way more efficient device. That is most useful when eradicating small or isolated imperfections, and when touching up uneven transitions brought on by the clone stamp.

Each device might require in depth apply until both is used to maximal impact. Both require clicking no less than twice: as soon as (whereas holding ALT/choice key) to pick the supply, then again for the target. Basic ideas and best-practices embrace:

  • Software Order. Optimal results are often achieved through the use of every device in succession. One can begin by replacing all missing content with the clone brush device, then by doing a remaining touch-up with the healing brush.
  • Source Area. Perhaps crucial facet is studying to choose one of the best source area for a given goal; ideally the comb measurement must be no bigger than required by the goal imperfection, and the supply must be as shut as attainable to the target’s lighting and site inside the picture.
  • Brush Hardness. A decrease brush hardness setting causes the sides of the brush to blend in better with the image — particularly with the clone stamp — but this additionally causes blurred or washed-out element if the source and target textures are totally different.
  • Repetition. Take additional care to not give the appearance of repeating features amongst in any other case random texture; this can be a tell-tale sign that the cloning and healing brushes have been used, and is surprisingly straightforward to determine — even by those not conversant in photograph modifying. Using a various vary of brush sizes may also help make such repeating options less noticeable.

Transfer your mouse over the picture under to see the mixed impact of those instruments on a large print that was digitally reassembled from torn items:

digitally-restored photo from torn pieces

Restoration required in depth cloning since tears have been across detailed brick textures. Photo circa 1929.


Photo restorations require many interpretive selections, so cautious judgment is a essential facet of the restoration course of. Before you even contact the photograph, ask your self: what do you hope to perform, and which features are of highest priority to enhance? Do your restorations keep the unique temper of the photograph, or is that even necessary? All of these can influence your selection of a number of seemingly equal approaches to restoration.

Regardless, take your time! Proper removing of bodily imperfections resembling stains or scratches may be fairly involved, so don’t (all the time) anticipate miracles with just some minutes of labor.

For comparable subjects, additionally see the following tutorials: