Have you ever unearthed some great old family photos only to realize they’re ripped, damaged or unnaturally discolored? While patina, fading and even a bit of yellowing can add authenticity and grace, some photos are so badly aged that you get the feeling they’re about to crumble in your hands. For those photos that you’d really like to restore and display, retouching with Photoshop can make all the difference in the world.
The photo above is a picture of my aunt, likely taken in the 1940’s. When we found the photo, it was in that near crumbling condition that cries out for preserving. The best I could offer was to retouch it in Photoshop, using mostly the clone stamp tool, and then reprint it on archival art paper. The before and after pics are presented side by side to emphasize the change, although the difference is more apparent when enlarged.
The close-up below gives a much clearer idea of just how damaged the photo was, including rips, discoloration and spotting. You can see in the larger after shot, at the top of this post, the rip and spotting are completely gone.
Once I discovered this skill, there was no shortage of photos to retouch. From the photos from my own childhood, to the early pictures of my kids, I began retouching everything I could get my hands on. Initially I took a basic Photoshop class at a local art center, and then I continued to practice from there. One obviously needs some knowledge of Photoshop to get started, but essentially it’s all about getting in real tight by enlarging the photo area you are working on, and mastering the clone stamp tool.
This photo from the 1960’s hints at the beginnings of my drawing career. I use Photoshop to retouch the imperfections, some from the actual photo and some the result of scanning. Then I edit the contrast and color where applicable, to get a better look at what the photo really has captured.
I’m often amazed what lightening a dark photo can reveal, but equally as interesting is bringing up the tones in a photo that is too light. I work with the dodge and burn tools a lot, in addition to basic contrast editing.
One of the greatest heartbreaks is finding a stack of photos of your kids stuck together and water damaged. We had one such disaster from storing a box in the attic. Never one to accept defeat, I held onto the damaged photos for many years, and once I learned how to retouch, I went straight for the pack. These pictures are from the 1990’s before I was using a digital camera, so they needed to be pulled apart, scanned and then retouched. The most extreme example can be seen below.
Before above… and after below.
I was delighted to finally have a reasonable version of one of my favorite early pictures of my daughter. Now if I could only learn how to Photoshop real life!