Project : Repair your oldily photos
Clean up pictures to preserve your past
it will take
From 5 minutes to 1 hour per photo
you will learn
How to use colour correction, cloning and path tools to fix pics
Photoshop, Affinity Photo or a similar editor that allows working on highly specific areas The beauty of digital storage is that you can make old photos instantly accessible, but simply setting aside a few days to hunker down with your scanner to produce a massive folder on your Mac of unsorted, unprocessed images is merely the modernday equivalent of a dusty old box in the attic. Taking a more focussed approach is key: scan important, one-of-a-kind shots, and make sure you tag the resultant files with a rough date and a few keywords so you can find them.
More than anything, digitising old photos is a chance to undo the ravages of time. Jobs such as restoring colour, removing tears and fixing water stains are all relatively simple, and we’ll walk you through how to perform these tasks effectively and invisibly, leaving you with fresh-looking, print-ready images free of the artefacts they picked up over the years.
For the purposes of this piece we’ll explain our examples using Photoshop, yet you’ll find many of its features, keyboard shortcuts and workings are replicated in Affinity Photo.
Your source material is the image you scan into your Mac. Scan your photos at the native resolution of your scanner at its highest colour count. Use the native file format of your image editor while you work – in Photoshop, that’s a PSD, while in Affinity Photo it’s the afphoto format. Apart from being lossless, using an image editor’s native format will do the best job of preserving layers and a history of your edits. Lossy formats like JPEG are best used when the fixing up is finished and you’re ready to print or share a photo online.
Using the spot healing brush
Passing insects and water damage, as well as greasy fingerprints all leave their mark, and understanding how the clone stamp and spot healing brush tools work will be a major step forward when it comes to fixing old photos.
The simplest way to lose dust spots and water marks is to use the spot healing brush. As you drag this tool across your image, it samples nearby pixels and paints them over the parts of your image under the
Digitising old photos is an opportunity to get rid of the ravages of time
pointer, replicating texture and lighting as it goes. When it comes to clearing up dust spots on otherwise clear areas of sky it’s amazingly effective, often requiring no follow-up work. It can also be used to good effect to clear up facial blemishes, although that should be beyond the scope of the at-home historian.
Using the clone stamp
When dust or water spots obscure finer detail, you’ll find the spot healing brush tool leaves obvious traces where you’ve been working. These will often present as blurry smudges in your image that draw attention to the fact it has been worked on, and in most cases will be less desirable than the smudges your work was intended to obscure.
As you start working on larger problems, learn how to use the clone stamp tool. It works like any other brush in Photoshop; choose it by pressing s and you’ll see you can change the brush’s flow rate, opacity, the hardness of its edges and so on, giving you lots of flexibility over the effect you create.
This tool copies and pastes an area of your image over the area you drag the pointer over, recreating detail as it goes. å- click the part of your image you want to recreate, then drag over the part of the image you want to obscure. It’s best to vary your view of the image, so work both fully zoomed in and zoomed out to make sure you’re making changes aren’t obvious in the finished image.
You should also pay attention to the checkbox in the options bar that’s labelled ‘Aligned’, as this will affect exactly where the clone stamp takes its sample from. If Aligned is unchecked, the first place you å- clicked will be where Photoshop takes its sample from and will reset to that position every time you release the mouse or trackpad button.
The faster you work, the clumsier your results will look. The nadir of any cloner’s efforts is a soft, detail-free airbrush effect that will make your efforts look very obvious. Make plentiful use of the Undo tool to step back if you make changes that don’t look good.
Improve a photo’s contrast
If your photos have been left on a mantlepiece for a number of years, it’s likely their colours will have faded drastically. Even images kept in the dark are likely to be less contrasty than their modern counterparts. Photos that have been exposed to the atmosphere – bright light plus environmental factors such as poor air quality – will show a greater drop-off.
Fortunately, restoring faded colours is a quick job. A quick yank on Photoshop’s contrast slider may yield fine results, but using
Dust spots like these are easy to fix thanks to the spot healing brush, which automatically samples nearby pixels.