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How to Restore Old or Damaged Photos with a Scanner and Photoshop

Updated on September 14, 2008

How to Restore Old or Damaged Photos with a Scanner and Photoshop

PART I: Before you Scan

  • Rub the scanner glass with a lint-free cloth. Flannel works.
  • Scrape dirt and mold off the photo with a blade.
  • Do NOT tape pieces that are torn off... they will be easier to add using the software.

PART II: The Scan

  • Scan at 1200 dpi. If your scanner can't do that, set the dpi to as high as it will go.
  • Scan any pieces that are broken/torn off at the same dpi setting.

PART III: Restoring Torn Pieces

  • From the "File" menu in Photoshop, select "Automate" and then "Photomerge..." Provide the two separately scanned files. Photoshop may be able to automatically join the two pieces, or you may need to give it some extra help. See photo1.

  • If the automatic photomerge doesn't work, then you can copy/paste the smaller piece into the larger file. After pasting, rotate the small piece and move it into place, press enter, and then select "Flatten Image" from the "Layer" menu.

PART IV: Rotating and Cropping

  • Rotate the photo so that it is straight. Using the Measure Tool, (under the Eyedropper Tool), draw a straight line indicating the horizontal level of the photo. Then select "Image :: Rotate Canvas :: Arbitrary...". Click "OK" and the photo will be straightened out. See photo2 and photo3.
  • Decide what size you are going to develop the final photograph in (e.g. 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, 11x14). Crop the photo in such a way that the pixel ratios match that of the size you will develop the photo in. If necessary, use "Image : Canvas Size..." to add some whitespace to either the top/bottom or the sides of the photo. This will ensure that there aren't any cropping surprises when you get the photo developed.
  • Example: I want to develop a 4x6 photo. I know that the short dimension must be at least 968 pixels high. The math looks like this:

4 : 6

968 : ?

I multiply 968 x 6 and divide by 4 to get 1452. Now i know that my image needs to be 1452 pixels wide.

Part V: Blemishes and Creases

  • If the photo is black and white, or otherwise duotone (sepia, etc.), convert the image to greyscale using "Image : Mode : Greyscale". This will immediately decrease the effect of staining. You can convert the image to RGB and add color or sepia tones later.
  • If you have Photoshop CS or CS2, then use the Healing Brush Tool for the below steps. If you have an older version of Photoshop, then use the Clone Stamp Tool. See photo4.
  • Select the Healing Brush Tool. Look for a defect in the photo that is lighter than the surrounding area. Select the "Darken" mode for the Healing Brush Tool. Select a brush size that is just slightly larger than the defect. Make sure that the brush hardness is 50% or less. See photo5.
  • If you are using Photoshop on Windows, then Alt-Click on an undamaged area near the blemish (Option-Click for Macintosh users), and then regular click once on the blemish.
  • For blemishes that are darker, use the same technique, only select the "Lighten" mode for the Healing Brush Tool.
  • Some blemishes need two passes, one with Lighten and one with Darken. Often a fold in a photograph will need two passes. You can experiment with using the Normal Mode instead of Lighten and Darken.
  • If there is an area that is generally lighter (as opposed to a well-defined blemish), use the Burn Tool with the brush size set as large as the area is wide, and with Hardness at 50% or less. If there is an area that is generally darker, use the Dodge Tool in the same way.

Part VI: Adjusting Color and Contrast

  • Use "Image : Adjustments : Brightness/Contrast..." to experiment with the brightness and contrast until you're happy with it.
  • If you have a difficult photo with some really light areas and other really dark areas, and you can't seem to reconcile one area without ruining another, then use instead "Image : Adjustments : Shadow/Highlight...". See photo6.
  • Select "Image : Adjustments : Color Balance...". Move the sliders AWAY from the colors that are too prominent in the photo.

Part VII: Sharpening the Photo

  • Select "Image : Mode : Lab Color"
  • Select "Lightness" from the "Channels" tab. You are going to sharpen the image without messing up the colors, and then you are going to bring the color back after the sharpen. See photo7.
  • Select "Filter : Sharpen : Unsharp Mask..." Set Amount to 65%, Radius to 3.0, and Threshold to 4. Click OK.
  • Select "Image : Mode : RGB Color".



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    • earthbound1974 profile image

      earthbound1974 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Loved it!!! I don't know much about Photography; my brother did. He used to edit photos through Digital Camera Enhancer.