Antique Photo Restoration: Fixing old photos using Photoshop

In the earlier days, people didn’t have the advantage of saving the photographs in memory cards and backing them up on their personal computers. At that time, they used to develop the film rolls, print out their pictures, and keep it safe in the albums. Sadly, the quality of the printed photos deteriorated over time and resulted in old and damaged pictures with tattered edges, faded ink, scratches, folds, dust, stains, etc. However, with the advent of modern technology, it is now possible to restore antique photos with a bit of trick and dedication.

Quick Overview

how to restore antique photos
Antique photo restoration techniques

Reviving the damaged photos is a bit time consuming, and often involves a lot of detailing work. However, learning the process can help even a novice to make major changes in the images. Below we have explained the different steps that a professional photo editor or typical image editing company would normally follow to restore the antique photos with the help of the popular image editing software, Photoshop.

  • Step 1: Gather the required supplies for editing

    Gather the required supplies for editing

    Find the old or damaged photo that needs to be repaired. The next thing you need to do is arrange an image scanner to scan the photo and get the digital copy. You can also use a digital camera to take the photograph or use a scanner app on your smartphone. Finally, make sure that the scanned image is larger and of high-quality. Also, ensure that you have Adobe Photoshop already installed on your system.

  • Step 2: Open the desired file in Photoshop

    Open the desired file in Photoshop

    Open the digital image you want to restore in Photoshop. Now, create a copy of the image so that you can work on it and keep the original file for reference. Here’s how to create a copy of the scanned image file in Photoshop.

    • Select a Layer in the Layers panel.
    • Select Duplicate Layer from the Layers menu or Layers panel menu. Otherwise, you can also drag the layer to the Create a New Layer button.
    • Now, give a name to the Layer, and click Ok
  • Step 3: Crop the photographs

    Crop the photographs

    Before you start working on the photo, crop your picture to get rid of the unwanted pixels or data first. In this way, you can prevent Photoshop from considering the information that is not required. So, select the crop tool present on the left tool panel. You can click on the top menu bar for adjusting the settings of width and length.

    Another quick tip will be to always use 300dpi, which is the print resolution. It will ensure that your images will be printed in the size you have set. In case you are using a smaller resolution than 300, then your pictures will look very small and won’t look good. The same thing will also happen if you are choosing a larger resolution than 300.

  • Step 4: Copy the layers

    Copy the layers

    After cropping, your images will open with the layers panel. It will showcase the original file with a default title of the layer saying Background. You can leave this layer alone while working unless you want to refer to the original image. Now, drag the background layer to the copy layer icon available on the panel’s bottom. It will create a copy of the Background layer. Rename it as Background Copy or anything of your choice to avoid confusion. Click on the eye button next to the layer to turn off the original Background layer and hide it.

  • Step 5: Assess what you need to add or remove

    Assess what you need to add or remove

    The photos you have selected might be having color issues or might have been blown out or faded because of being old. However, Photoshop can help you to identify those areas and remove the unwanted color casts while adding the required highlights and shadows.

  • Step 6: Adjust the levels

    Adjust the levels

    Highlight the layer you want to adjust. Make level adjustments on the layer by selecting the levels adjustment tool that is present just down at the bottom’s panel. It will be a half black and half white icon. Once the icon is selected, it will provide a series of adjustment choices. From those choices, select the one called levels. Now, Photoshop will place the levels adjustment layer just in the layer you have highlighted. At that time, the levels adjustment panel must also appear above the panels. If you are not able to see it, then go to the Windows menu at the top menu bar and select it from the drop-down menu.

    The next step is to make adjustments for separating the color channels in the levels adjustment panels. Now, click on the RGB icon to see a drop-down list of red, green, and blue channels. Select the desired channel of your choice, and you will be able to see the channel’s graph and adjustment buttons. Slide the left black button towards the center until it hits the graph’s edge and then pull the right white button into the center until it hits the other edge of the graph.

  • Step 7: Modify the adjustments

    Modify the adjustments

    The results might seem a bit contrasting once you have made the adjustments to each channel. In that case, you can either return to each of the channels and pull the button outwards. Another good way is to minimize the opacity of the adjustment layer. You can do this by going to the opacity slider present just above the adjustment layer. Now, move the slider to the left for reducing the affect of the adjustment layer on the layer below it.

  • Step 8: Merge the layers

    Merge the layers

    For merging the two layers, you first need to highlight the adjustment layer and click on the layer below it while holding the Shift key. Now, click on the small arrow present on the top-right menu to get the drop-down menu for selecting merge layers. It will then merge the two highlighted layers.

  • Step 9: Add shadows or highlights

    Add shadows or highlights

    Since shadows and highlights cannot be added to its own layer, copy the layer so that it is kept separate. Click and drag the layer known as Levels 1 to the copy icon present at the bottom of the panel. It will create a copy of the layer at the top of the layer stack. Now, you are ready to make adjustments to this layer. Meanwhile, the Levels 1 layer will still remain unaffected.

    Now, with the top layer selected, go to the menu bar at the top and select Image> Adjustments> Shadows /Highlights. It will make the highlights and shadow adjustments on the selected layer. In Shadows, move the amount slider to the left. Do the opposite for the Highlights and move its amount slider to the right. See the changes once and then adjust it accordingly.

  • Step 10: Carry out the final adjustments

    Carry out the final adjustments

    If you are happy with the results, merge the two layers like it was done before. After merging, take the final step for old photo restoration by adjusting the color and adding vignettes for highlighting the subject. You can also include the color balance adjustment layer by following the same steps for adding the adjustment layer from the half black and half white circle icon and selecting the color balance from the drop-down list. Now, the color balance adjustment panel will appear at the top where you can adjust different colors of your choice.

  • Step 11: Add the vignettes

    Add the vignettes

    A vignette is a darkened border that is added to the image to highlight the subject from the background. For adding it, you need to choose an elliptical marquee and set the feather amount quite high. Make a selection around the subject by selecting the area and then choosing invert selection. Click alt/ cmd + c to copy the selection and alt/ cmd + v to copy it to a new layer on the top of the layer stack. Now, with the new layer selected, add a levels adjustment by pressing cmd+ L. Move the white slider on the output section towards the center and black slider on the input graphs towards the right. Also, move the gray one towards the right. Keep an eye on the image and ensure that the effects are not exaggerated.

  • Step 12: Save the file

    Save the file

    Once you are satisfied with the editing, you can delete the original reference layer. You can also right-click the edited and choose Flatten Image. Now, click the File option and select Save As. Save your image in the system with a .jpeg file extension and specify a filename and location of your choice. If you want to see the image without vignettes, you can also save it as a PSD file. Now, click on the Save button to save the restored file on your system.

I hope that the guide is really helpful to you in carrying out the basic adjustments for reviving an old or damaged file. Though the present-day technologies enable initial adjustments in Camera, preferring advanced and sophisticated tools like Lightroom or Photoshop would be a better and convenient option. This is what most companies specializing in photo editing services believe and also incorporate it in their working procedures. So, if you don’t want to go through the trouble of doing the editing work yourself, then you still have the option of hiring a professional photo editing company offering antique photo restoration service and be assured of the best outcomes. To read more informative topics like this, stay updated to our website to learn a few other image editing techniques and technologies that can improve your knowledge and skills.