Repairing Family Photographs

Light, mold, moisture and non-archival materials can damage family photographs. Light as well as the frame has damaged the photo below. It would take a restoration professional to bring this one back to its original state. Luckily, we have found an 8x10 copy that is in better condition.

Photograph exposed to light and acidity (above)

Although the 8x10 copy was stored in a typical family photo album, it also has signs of deterioration, mostly in terms of a shift in color. Most typical photo albums are not made of acid-free materials and are not intended for long-term storage.

Photograph stored in album before digital restoration

I have decided the only way to truly preserve the family photos is to digitize them. Most need some amount of color correction. The biggest problem is scratches and dust from the original film.

The following instructions will show you how to eliminate scratches and dust as well as some tips on correcting color issues. Good luck.

1.    Color profiles can be complicated but are very important to getting the color correct. Almost all household scanners and point-and-shoot digital cameras will embed the RGB color profile sRGB IEC61966-2.1. If you are only viewing images on the web, this profile is fine, but for print you will want to convert to Adobe RGB1998. Make sure you first assign the sRGB profile to your image if it doesn’t have an embedded profile then convert to RGB1998.

Under Color Setting check all boxes "ask when opening"

2.    Reduce Noise (Filter-Noise). Removes color artifacts made up by scanners and digital cameras, especially in low light situations. I recommend a strength of 6-8. Keep the rest of the levers between 40-60%.

3.    Fix the color using the tools you feel comfortable with. This photo, like many old photos is too red. I will use Selective Color to take red out of red. I will also use Curves to adjust the reds in the Red Channel, as well as adjust the yellow in the Blue Channel. Use your Info Palette to read the color numbers.

4.    Many original old photographs have lots of dust, speckles and scratches. The Dust & Scratches Filter (under Noise) is helpful but to make it more effective first sharpen your file using Sharp Sharpen or Unsharp Mask. The amount will vary based on your image. I recommend turning off the sharpen feature on your scanner and using only Smart Sharpen in Photoshop. In this photograph I used Amount 80%, Radius 1.6, More Accurate, Shadow and Highlight Fade Amount 30%, Tonal Width 50%, Radius 3 pixels.

Before sharpening and dust & scratches

5.    The sharpening enhanced the dust and speckles so that the Dust & Scratches Filter (under Filter/Noise) could find them. In this photograph I use Radius 3 pixels and Threshold 30 levels. Higher radius and lower threshold enhance the effect. I usually stay between 1-3 radius and 20-40 threshold when using this tool.

Detail, after color correction, sharpening dust & scratches

6.    Always save your files to be printed as tiffs. You should think of jpegs as temporary files to transfer images to the web or email.

Final corrected photograph