I occasionally take on requests to restore damaged family photos in Photoshop. Some of these photos have suffered heavy damage, and I enjoy that particular challenge. Most are precious in one way or another to the client, and many times it’s the only photo someone has of a beloved or lost relative. I think it’s important to take one’s time when restoring such photographs. It’s easy to use shortcuts, but the best results come from meticulous care.
A woman’s only photo of herself as a young child, and the only image of her grandparents
The original image is on the left. On the right is the image after reducing the contrast adjacent to the tears and cracks, then filling the cracks using sampling of adjacent pixels. This can be done using tools in Photoshop like “content-aware” fill or the healing brush. However, in areas where accurate detail is critical (such as faces), I prefer to do this step manually by eye, as it keeps the highest number of undamaged pixels intact.
The image on the left shows the layer of sampled greys used to fill the cracks and tears. On the right, the green indicates the areas of missing emulsion (data). As you can see, it’s not as much damage as you might suspect. When filling the cracks, I work in a separate layer and fill only the areas of missing emulsion. I do not paint over undamaged or intact areas of the photo, and I do not blend the fill into surrounding areas.
Removed tubes from a baby photo
Repair of the only photo of the client’s mother from her youth
The only photo a man had of his mother, who died when he was born
An early 20th-century family photo
A cat destroyed this favorite photo of a beloved uncle
Repaired emulsion loss from the only photo of the subject as a child
Restoration of a vintage photo with a large shadow
The only photo of an ancestor as a child
Repair and colorization of a long lost relative