How to Repair Tears, Scratches and Spots in Old Photos

Your box of printed photos is a treasure box filled with family memories and special moments in time. Unfortunately, some of those photo treasures may have sustained a fair amount of damage over the years. If this is the case with your collection of old photos, you should act now to save and restore them.

Here’s what is involved in preserving physical photos as well as the memories embedded in them.

Preserving physical photos

Many of the photos in your family memory box are likely to have been roughly handled over the years. They might have been jammed into boxes, folded or ripped. Some may even be missing parts of the original image. Preserving old photo starts with first assessing the extent of physical damage to it and taking steps to reverse this.

  • Old photos are delicate and prone to further damage and so, at the outset, you should place them in storage envelopes made of acid-free paper.
  • When a photo is torn, it’s important to stabilize the torn area and prevent the tear from widening. You can use archival, acid-free tape to repair the tear on the backside. Do not use regular tape for this as it can discolor the photo.
  • Do not try to flatten a folded photo with an iron or other manual device. This can cause further damage around the fold. It’s best to store it loosely in archival quality storage to prevent any further damage to the photo.
  • Use a soft brush to remove dust, sand or other residue from the photo, taking care not to scratch it. Then you can wrap it in acid-free paper and store in an archival box.

Restoring old photos

Once you have addressed the physical damage, you can now start to restore old photos.

Restoring Old Photos

  • Old photo restoration starts with taking a high resolution scan of the physical photograph. A low resolution scan may not preserve the details enough for a quality restoration.
  • With the scan complete, the restoration can begin. The easy items to hit include correcting the photo’s colors, removing red eye and covering light scratches and spots. This will usually handle most of the damage to otherwise well-preserved photos.
  • Of course, in some cases, the damage may be more extensive. That is when you need patience and time to get the restoration right. You will need to make corrections at the pixel level in cases where the damage is particularly bad.
  • When there are creases and tears in a photo, it can take time to properly restore it. It may involve moving and merging parts of the scan in order to recreate the original. The exercise requires more effort, but is well worth it.

Repairing and colorizing old photos

Once you have performed all the critical repairs, you can start looking at other enhancements such as adding color to old black and white photos. Here are a few aspects of this exercise to consider:

  • You can start playing with skin tones as try to move your black and whites into the colorized realm. Your photo editing software likely has a color palette available to get you started. Keep in mind, though, that skin is never a single tone but a play of several tones – darker shades in shadow, lighter shades in direct light, and others in between.
  • Lighting plays a part in how you color the entire photo. Light usually comes from one direction, especially outside during daylight. However, it can come from multiple directions inside, or at night. Plus, the color of the light changes. On a cloudy day, colors become muted. On a bright day, colors become saturated. As the sun goes down, light takes on an orange tint. Filtered through winter clouds, light can have a blue hue.
  • Adding color to clothing requires a bit of research. Certain colors and patterns were popular in different decades. If you know the approximate year or decade a photo was taken, do some online research to see what was popular in terms of clothing and accessories. Your final images will look more authentic if you can recreate appropriate fashion trends in them.

Adding color to a photo should be something you take your time with. The more time and thought that goes into the colorization project, the better the final results will be.

Coloring Photos

Using a photo restoration service

Repairing, colorizing and old photos restoration takes time and effort. If you are not a photo restoration expert or enthusiast, you may find that the project is a bit too much for you. This is when you should consider bringing in the professionals.

  • Professional photo restoration experts have training and experience in repairing & retouching old photographs. What takes them a few minutes – fixing a tear, for instance – might take a non-expert hours to do.
  • They also have the right tools to get the job done. Professional quality software comes with filters and features to handle almost any repair with minimal effort. For example, attempting a realistic photo colorization exercise calls for repair skills as well as the right editing software.
  • They know how to handle complicated repair jobs that non-experts would struggle with. Water damage can cause overall fading, discoloring and distortion in a photo. A non-expert might be able to fix a background stain, but professional skills are needed when it comes to restoring a face or article of clothing and removing the effects of water damage to these.
  • Mold damage can result in spots across many parts of a photograph and leech color out of it. Removing the discoloration and normalizing it with the rest of the photo takes patience and skill.
  • Pictures with large pieces missing are also best tackled by photo restoration professionals. They can extrapolate from what’s available and replicate key parts in order to create a fully restored photo. It takes patience and expertise to do this level of restoration work.