Photo retouching is a great way to give an old photo a facelift. Using special editing software, you can work on a digital version of an old image and manipulate its color, brightness, and contrast in order to enhance its appearance. In some cases, photo retouching can help fix a damaged photo and make it look like new again.
Any photo is a good candidate for photo retouching but an old one – for example, the only photo you have of an ancestor or of a group at a family reunion – is especially suited for this. Restoring that photo to its original glory helps to preserve this memory for the future. It also gives you a wonderful moment from the past to share with others.
What Is Photo Retouching?
Photo retouching is the process of enhancing an image. In today’s terms, it usually involves making changes to an image using photo editing software. Subtle changes can refresh and enhance an image and make it look better for display and sharing.
For example, a common image retouching technique is red eye removal. When light reflects off the back of the eye, it can sometimes show up in a photo as a red glow in the eyes. A simple retouching of the area restores the original eye color, making the photo more true to life.
How to do basic photo retouching
To do any photo retouching you are going to need photo editing software such as PhotoShop or GIMP. The software you select should include numerous filters and features for image manipulation. Let’s look at a few of the more common retouching techniques:
- Color correction involves manipulating the photo’s colors to bring balance to the entire image. The Color Balance tool is one way to play with the color balance in a photo. You can adjust the amount of red, green, cyan, magenta, yellow and blue in it with the use of a slide bar. Subtle changes can make a big difference.
- You can also let the photo software do the work for you. Most packages offer filters and tools that will do most of the work for you with a simple click of a button. Auto Color or Auto Contrast can correct color imbalances, though you still may have to make minor adjustments.
- Touch-ups of light scratches or nicks are easier with the brush accessory. You can choose the background color from an area close to a flaw and then use the brush tool to lightly cover the damaged area. This blends the flaw out of the picture.
- More prominent defects may require the use of multiple tools, such as brushes as well as blending and cloning tools. When the damage cuts across a subject’s face or body, the photo has to be restored at the pixel level for best results. When the flaw appears in a generic background, the process of erasing it is a bit easier.
Dos and Dont’s of photo retouching
Retouching old photos is a delicate balance between preserving the original image and enhancing it. Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind during the process:
- Retouch areas of obvious damage, including scratches, tears, or nicks. Once these are removed, the photo’s actual subject will stand out.
- Retouch at the pixel level when possible. Trying to use a large brush to cover a small flaw will distort the surrounding image. This is where a higher resolution scan makes a big difference. It’s especially important when the damage in question obscures a person’s face or body.
- Crop the photo if it will frame the subjects better. Some candid shots tend to have their subjects off towards one side of the photo. Cropping puts them back in the center. It also helps to display photo details more prominently.
- Correct the color or brightness balance. This can make a big difference to an old photo. But basic color correction can also transform any ordinary photo.
- Remove red eye wherever it occurs. This is a quick and obvious fix to remove a jarring effect and make a photo truer to life.
- Over retouch – With so many tools and filters available, it is quite easy to get carried away when it comes to retouching a photo. Less is usually best when it comes to photo retouching. Once you get the look you want, that’s a good time to stop.
- Rush the process – It takes time to get the details right in a retouching job. If you are trying to do digital photo editing in a hurry, it will show in the final results.
- Overlook areas that can be retouched – It is easy to look at a digital photo and conclude that it looks good enough. However, if we look closely, we are likely to find ways that retouching can further enhance the image.
- Overuse any one tool – The brush tool may be easy to use, but may not be the best choice for restoring the entire picture. A mix of tools and filters will give you the best results.
Professional photo retouching
If you don’t want to spend a lot of your time on this project, however, you should consider outsourcing it to any digital scanning service. Here are a few reasons why using a professional photo retouching service is preferable to attempting it yourself.
- They are experienced in using photo editing software in order to bring out the best in your photos.
- They have experience with restoring and repairing even the most damaged photos. They can piece parts of a photo together to give you a cohesive image that’s as close to the original as possible. This kind of repair can involve several hours of painstaking work at the pixel level.
- They can bring life back to faded old photos. By adding shadow and brightness, they can reintroduce details that you might have assumed were permanently lost. You may be able to attempt this yourself but there may be a fair amount of trial and error before you find the right combination of filters and tools.
- They can colorize your old black and white photos. Color helps to enhance the details of old photos without distorting the original image’s crispness and quality. Color also makes old photos more visually appealing.