The Photo Managers Blog

Old Photo Recovery: How to Restore Old Photos

Remember a time when we took actual photos rather than just taking digital images on our cameras? These were images that were projected on chemically sensitized paper which made for a handheld picture one could frame, put in a scrapbook or store in an old shoe box to take out and look at years later.

Of course, the printed picture medium still exists today. Many of us enjoy printed photos for nostalgic reasons as well as the fact that they are material objects that we can look at and display. We also never risk the chance of losing them due to a technological glitch.

But the downside of printed photos is that they fade over time. Damage can also come in the form of humidity, water, sunlight or dirt. If you have old photos that are showing signs of damage, there are several things you can do to restore them to their original beauty.

Read on to find out how to restore old photos.

Fixing Photo Damage Digitally

When thinking of old photo recovery and how to restore old photos, there are many methods one can use. If you are thinking of digital methods, you will need the proper tools. These include a high-quality scanner, special photo printer and photo editing software.

There are several types of software you can use for photo editing. Photoshop is recommended but the Fotophire Editing Toolkit and Inpaint are just some of the other types of software that are also good old photo recovery choices.

Start by scanning your photos in a high-quality scanner. Save the image as TIFF file. These files are larger and better able to retain detail and quality. Once the image is saved, you will need to open it in your photo editing software.

Next, you will want to crop the image to eliminate any signs of damage that may be evident on the edges of the photo. Then work on the color tone. This may take a bit of trial and error as you work with brightness levels, contrast and more. Save versions you are happy with so you can compare each one and select which you prefer.

If your photo has scratch and dust marks, you can use the Dust and Scratches filter, the Spot Healing Brush or a similar feature to get rid of these. Just magnify the photo and use your cursor to touch up damage. Zoom out periodically to make sure your picture is looking good and that the tool is not blurring any details.

If your picture is torn or has any missing portions, you can use the Clone Stamp or a similar tool to recreate a portion of the image and fill in the damaged sections. To do this, open the tool and select the portion of the photo you would like to recreate and click once. Then move the cursor to the area you would like to repair with the copied material.

Now that you have created the process, you can use an inkjet or special photo printer to print your restored photograph on glossy paper.

Fixing Photo Damage Manually

When thinking of how to restore old photos, digital is not the only option. You can also restore them manually. If photos are dirty, you may be able to clean them by hand. You can gently remove dirt with a soft brush or toothbrush. If there is a large amount of dirt, you can rinse the photo under lukewarm running water and use your fingers to gently remove the dirt. Then let the photo dry in a dark place where it will not be disturbed.

If you have two or more photos that are stuck together, you may be able to separate them by soaking them in distilled water. To do this, you will need distilled water that you can buy at a grocery store. Water should be lukewarm. Soak them in water face up for 20 to 30 minutes. Then use your fingers or a spatula to gently slide them apart. Let them dry on a towel face up.

Photos that are stuck to glass or have glass stuck to them can also be worked with. You can remove glass with a hair dryer held 4 to 5 inches away from the back of the print. After a few minutes, slowly peel the image from the glass starting at its corners. Hopefully, this will allow you to remove the glass without damaging the print.

If your photos are torn, you can fix them using acid free tape. Acidic adhesives can damage the photo. A small piece of acid free tape applied to the back of the photo will work to secure the photo. Acid free paper and acid free glue can also be used to provide a similar solution.

If your photo has curled edges, you can create a humidification chamber to straighten it out. To do this, fill a plastic storage bin with a couple of inches of room temperature water. Place a wire rack in the container making sure the top is not submerged. Place the photo on the rack and close the chamber with a lid.

Let it sit for a couple of hours checking on it periodically to wipe any drops of water from the photo’s surface. To dry the photo, place it on a towel and cover it with blotting or parchment paper. Then weigh it down with a book to prevent curling from reoccurring.

Now that you know more about how to restore old photos, you may be on your way to getting your vintage images looking brand new. But if you are still looking for more information on old photo recovery, photo organization and more, Professional Photo Organizers has a number of resources you can use like an online course for working with water-damaged photos.

Contact us to find out more about our in-depth organizing class and to learn about the importance of preserving photos and videos. Then, look forward to enjoying your precious memories for years to come!

If you need help organizing and preserving your lifetime of photos, videos, and keepsakes, find a photo organizer near you at the Association of Personal Photo Organizers.

Don’t forget to grab your copy of Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going from Overwhelmed to Overjoyed from APPO founder Cathi Nelson or take one of our Photo Organizing Made Easy courses.

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