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Fixing Old Black & White Photos

Updated on July 31, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been mastering photography and Photoshop for many years and sells some of her work. She hires out her skills to help people.

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An army photo of one of my ancestors from 1927.  BeforeAfter correction
An army photo of one of my ancestors from 1927.  Before
An army photo of one of my ancestors from 1927. Before | Source
After correction
After correction | Source

Fixing the Old

Have you ever wanted to make your old photographs new again? How many times have you opened an old honored album only to find prized photos fading and damaged, seemingly beyond repair? Did you think for one moment that you could save them yourself with your Photoshop program? New technology is sometimes intimidating. But there are some things that are well worth the effort. Adobe Photoshop is one of those. The learning curve is not as difficult as you may think. Like many things (music, art, dance), the more you practice, the better you get at it.

One of the things that I did to practice was to assign myself weekly tasks, mostly with text effects, but also with photographs and photo-manipulation. Years ago people like you and I were stuck with a textbook and hours of head-scratching. Today there are thousands of YouTube Photoshop video tutorials by pioneers who have already done the head-scratching for you.

Open Photoshop and Open your photo
Open Photoshop and Open your photo | Source

Adobe Photoshop

I have Adobe Photoshop CS5, the program on the disc. It is getting older now but still works fine for my purposes. There have been quite a few new advancements between the CS5 and the Creative Cloud. Most of the tools are the same however and are used basically the same way with the same shortcuts.

To begin, you have to learn about some of the basics, such as where to find certain tools and how to work them. For instance, the first time I opened Photoshop, I saw there was a Paint Brush tool. As an artist, I figured that I didn’t need any help working a paintbrush so I clicked onto it and nothing happened. Very disappointing. In this introduction, I will try to cover the many tools and filters used for photography and how each one can apply to your older photographs.

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Specks and water spots to be healed.After healing.
Specks and water spots to be healed.
Specks and water spots to be healed. | Source
After healing.
After healing. | Source

Healing BrushTool

I started by using the Healing Brush Tool to get rid of specks and dots. I created a new Layer to do this so I didn’t damage my original photo.

Cast your vote for Adobe Photoshop
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Before CloneAfter Clone
Before Clone
Before Clone | Source
After Clone
After Clone | Source

Clone Tool

After going inch by inch and healing all the dots and scratches, then it is time to fix the larger problems. On the Army picture, something appears to have been dripped or dropped onto the photo. This is too big for a healing brush. For this, I had to use the Clone Tool. To make the Clone Tool work, you first have to press and hold Alt (on a PC) or Option (on a Mac) and drag the cursor to a spot that is in good shape. This is what you will be “painting” or “cloning” over the damaged area. When you release, the Clone brush comes back. You can resize this using the slider bar on the top toolbar or by pressing the "[" (left bracket) to make smaller or the "]" (right bracket) to make it bigger. As you over the brush over the damaged area you should be able to see a “sample” or “ghost” of the place you chose to clone. This is very helpful so you can see what you are going to be placing in the new area before you click and commit yourself.

Old Photo Restoration

Do you have prized photos that could use retouching?

See results

Build Up Cloned Areas

Note also that it is best to press Alt/Option often on the Clone Tool and keep choosing good spots to cover damaged spots. If you don’t it will be noticeable that you have copied one part of the photo over another part.

Some things are very hard to clone. If you notice there is a spill or tear over the soldier’s elbow on the left. There are no other elbows that will work to clone, so I very carefully cloned the background around the elbow and tried my best to build up the elbow from the other parts of the soldier’s uniform. It isn’t perfect but it looks much better than it did.

Source

Levels Filter

After adjusting the Army photo’s Levels I noticed that the photo had a distinct sepia tone and I decided to leave it. After adjusting the Apricot Pickers photo’s Levels I noticed that the photo was very yellowed so I made one more adjustment. You will notice in the Levels Window there are three little eyedroppers. I only use these on black and white photos. I clicked on the white eyedropper and took it to a place on the photo that I felt should be the whitest white. I clicked on the whitest part of her dress and the whole photo lightened up. Then I chose the black eyedropper and moved it to a place on the photo with the blackest black, in this case, the shadow behind the right girl, and clicked. The darks and lights became more balanced and the yellowing went away. If you don’t like what this did, you can always Undo or press cancel.

With the Army photo, I could have done this same thing to blow out the sepia and get a pure black and white photo. Then if I wanted I could add a sepia filter on top of that. It is always an option.

Finished
Finished | Source

Resize

The last thing I did was to resize these photos for Internet use. I always save the original so that I can re-edit it later if need be. I give it a name and save it in a folder where I’m sure to be able to find it again. Then I go to Image>Image Size and when the window comes up I make the longest size no more than 11 inches. If it is already below 11 inches but the Resolution is high (200 dpi or better) then I resize small photos (like 2 or 3 inches on the longest side) to about 8 or 9 inches and change the Resolution to 72 dpi. This is the best resolution for the Internet so that the image is still crisp and clear but not so large that it takes forever to load. For Facebook, I usually make the photo smaller (same resolution but smaller in inches) so that the resolution won’t be good enough for people to want to steal it. I especially do this with my photos of my artwork.

My Fairy Sister photo composite
My Fairy Sister photo composite | Source

Final Thoughts

I heard an artist telling about how she posted her art on Facebook and six months later found quite by accident a large billboard advertisement using her artwork in another country she was visiting. Pilfering has become a pass-time.

I hope you like what I did to fix these photos and that it helps you in the future for your photos. Have fun and remember to enjoy the process. Nothing is permanent so don’t stress.

Comments

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      17 months ago from Fresno CA

      Charles K Rankin,

      So glad to hear it. Good luck with it. I'm sure it will bring a smile to his face. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • profile image

      Charles K Rankin 

      17 months ago from columbia SC 29209

      Thank, working on picture of Viet nam friend. Will bring a smile to his face. Peace.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      22 months ago from Fresno CA

      Lawrence Hebb,

      You know in the beginning Photoshop was only for fixing old or damaged photos. Today it has become so much more but I think people forget you can also repair and adjust photos with it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      I've never used photoshop but this was very interesting. Nearly all my photos, (both old and new) have been digitized so I can use them when I need to.

      Great job explaining how here.

      Lawrence

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Crampton,

      I'm so happy you got something out of this. You are very kind to say my work is good. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Besarien,

      Thank you very much. It is nice that they can be restored, isn't it? I love some of these old pieces of family history and I'm so glad they aren't lost forever. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Rachel Alba,

      I'm so happy you got something out of it. Ask your daughter about Photoshop and see if she's ever repaired or restored old photos. She may be a good resource. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      24 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for sharing the instructions, Denise. I do some photo manipulation, though I'm certainly not as good at it as you. I enjoy the process, though.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 

      24 months ago from South Florida

      There is something so sad about old damaged photos. I think it is wonderful that they can be healed and given a new life. I'm amazed by how delicate and true to the original image, yet how transformative your work is here. Kudos!

    • profile image

      Rachel Alba 

      24 months ago

      Hi Denise, I love this idea. I have edited a lot of photos, but never al old black and white. My daughter know how to do this, however. Maybe she had that Adobe Photoshop too. Thanks for sharing these great ideas.

      Blessings to you.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Lum,

      Yes. It is amazing all the things that you can do in Photoshop isn't it? I even use it as a painting tool. But I have repaired and restored a number of photos for friends and family and they are always amazed. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      24 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I had no idea that this was a possibility. I had only thought of manipulating new photos. Something to do in my spare time? Thank you for tbe excellent titorial.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Dana Tate,

      I'm so glad you found it helpful. Just scan them in and your original is untouched and undamaged. You can try lots of things and even if you don't like the product you have not damaged your originals. What could it hurt? Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      24 months ago from LOS ANGELES

      I have photo's of my mother and grandparents that are gone. I've treated them like porcelain, too afraid to touch them, because they are so old and fragile. You've given me hope! I was going to try and restore them at a photo shop but this is worth looking into.

      This is a great hub Denise.

      Thank you.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Virginia Allain,

      That is a great service. I never heard of it before but it probably gives people the experience they wouldn't be able to get without a variety of old photos to restore. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Mary Norton,

      Yes, Mary. There are also some very good free YouTube tutorials that take you through the steps also. Some go too fast to follow but others are very helpful. You have to do some searching. I have loved making my old photos new and vibrant again. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      24 months ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Slawson,

      Yes. You would be surprised how sprucing up those older photos and then reprinting them gives them new life. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      24 months ago from Central Florida

      I had Adobe Photoshop at one time, but didn't apply myself to learn it. Now I just use what came with my Windows 10 and it is limited in capability. A few photos, I've submitted to a Facebook group that likes to restore damaged pictures. There are varying skill levels on there, but it is a great service.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      24 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for this detailed illustration of how to go about fixing old photos using Adobe. I had been wanting to learn this and this could be a good starting point.

    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      24 months ago from North Carolina

      Very cool. I had no idea you could do this. Really neat. I have an older version of Photoshop on my computer as well. Might have to give this a try. Thank you for sharing :)

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