Repair and Retouch an Old Photograph in Photoshop

01
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Repair and Retouch an Old Photograph in Photoshop

Photo Restoration Before and After
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

In this tutorial, I will repair and retouch an old damaged photograph using Photoshop CC, but any recent version of Photoshop can be used. The photograph I'll be using has a crease from having been folded in half. I will repair this and also retouch areas that are less damaged. I'll do it all using the Clone Stamp Tool, Spot Healing Brush tool, Content-Aware Patch Tool and other various tools. I'll also use the Adjustment panel to adjust the brightness, contrast, and color. In the end, my old photo will look as good as new without losing the nice sepia color that you see in photographs from the early 20th century and before.

To follow along, right click on the link below to download a practice file, then open the file in Photoshop and continue through each of the steps in this tutorial.    

  • Ps_retouch_practice_file.png
02
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Adjust Curves

Adjust Curves
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

In the Adjustments panel I will click on the Curves button to view it in the Properties panel. I'll then click on Auto. The tonality of the photograph is represented as a straight diagonal line, but when adjusted the line will curve.

After an auto adjustment I can still tweak individual colors to my liking, if I want. To adjust the blue, I will choose Blue in the RGB drop down menu, then click on the line to create a control point and drag to make a curve. Dragging a point up or down lightens or darkens the tones, and dragging to the left or right increases or decreases the contrast. If necessary, I can click elsewhere on the line to create a second point and drag. I can add up to 14 points if I want, but I find that one or two is usually all that's needed. When I like what I see I can move on.

If I wanted to make the tones in this photograph black, white, and gray, I could just choose Image > Mode > Grayscale. I won't do this, however, because I like the sepia tones.

03
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Adjust Brightness and Contrast

Adjust Brightness and Contrast
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

I like how the photograph has changed, but I would like to see it slightly brighter, yet without losing any contrast. To do so I could continue to make adjustments in Curves, but there's an easier way. In the Adjustments panel I will click on the Brightness/Contrast, then in the Properties panel I will move the sliders until I like how it looks.

If you haven't already, now would be a good time to save the file with a new name. This will save my progress and preserve the original file. To do so, I'll choose File > Save As, and type in a name. I'll call it old_photo, then choose Photoshop for the Format and click Save. Later, whenever I want to save my progress, I can just choose File > Save or press Control + S or Command + S.
04
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Crop Edges

Crop Edges of Photo
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

Besides the obvious fold mark on this old photograph, there are other unwanted marks and specks. To quickly remove the ones along the edge of the photograph I will simply use the Crop tool to cut them away

To use the Crop tool, I need to first select it from the Tools panel, click and drag the top left then bottom right corners inward and to where I want to make the crop. Since the image is slightly crooked, I will place the cursor just outside the crop area and drag to rotate and the image. I can even place my cursor inside the crop area to move the photo, if needed. Once I have it just right, I will double-click to make the crop.

Related: How to Straighten a Crooked Image with the Crop Tool in Photoshop or Elements

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Remove Specks

Remove Specks
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

Now I want to remove the unwanted specks. Using the Zoom tool I can click on any area for a closer view. I can always press Alt or Option as I click to zoom back out. I will start in the top left corner of the photograph and work my way from left to right on down as if reading a book, so not to overlook any of the smaller specks. To remove the specks, I will click on the Spot Healing Brush tool, then on each of the specks, avoiding the fold mark (I'll deal with the fold mark later).

I can adjust the brush size as needed, by pressing the left and right brackets, or I can indicate the size in the options bar at top. I will make the brush whatever size is needed to just cover the speck that I'm removing. If I make a mistake, I can simply choose Edit > Undo Spot Healing Brush and try again. 

Related: Remove Dust and Specks from a Scanned Image with Photoshop Elements

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Repair Background

Repair Background
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

To remove the fold mark on the background, I will use the Clone Stamp tool. I'll start with a soft round 30 px brush size, but use the left and right brackets to change the size as needed. I can also make change to the brush size in the Brush panel. A button in the Options bar allows me to easily toggle the brush panel while working.

I'll use the Zoom tool to zoom in on the fold mark that's to the left of the girl's face, then with the Clone Stamp tool selected I'll hold down the Option key as I click away from the damaged area and where the tone is similar to the area that I'm about to repair. I see that this particular photograph has a texture of vertical lines, so I'll try to place the pixels where the lines will join together seamlessly. To place the pixels I'll click along the fold mark. I will stop when I reach the girl's collar (I'll get to the collar and face in the next step). When I'm done repairing the left side I can move onto the right side, working in the same way as before. 

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Repair Face and Collar

Repair Face and Collar
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

To repair the girl's face, I'll need to go back and forth between tools. I'll use the Clone Stamp tool where the damage is great, and the Spot Healing Brush tool to remove the smaller unwanted areas. Large areas can be corrected using the Patch tool. To use the Patch tool, I will click on the small arrow next to the Spot Healing Brush tool to reveal and choose the Patch tool, then in the Options bar I'll choose Content Aware. I'll draw around a damaged area to create a selection, then click in the center of the selection and drag to an area that is similar in terms of light and dark tones. A preview of the selection can be seen before committing to it. When I'm happy with what I see I can click away from the selection to deselect. I'll repeat this again and again, in the areas that are easily repaired with the Patch tool, but again switch to the Clone Stamp tool and Spot Healing Brush tool as needed.

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Draw What's Missing

Draw What's Missing
Text and images © Sandra Trainor
I'm now faced with the decision of having to draw an area that's missing or leave it be. When it comes to retouching photographs, it's usually best to leave well enough alone, since doing too much might look unnatural. Though, sometimes it's necessary to do more. In this image, I lost some of the detail in the jawline on the left when removing the fold mark, so I will draw it back in using the Brush tool. To do so, I'll click on the Create a New Layer button in the Layers panel, choose the Brush tool from the Tools panel, hold down the options key as I click on a dark tone within the photograph to sample it, set the Brush size to 2 px, and draw in a jawline. Because the line I draw will look too harsh, I'll need to soften it. I'll choose the Smudge tool and move it across the bottom half of the line where it touches the neck. To soften the line even more, I will change the Opacity in Layers panel to around 24% or whatever looks best.
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Add Highlights

Add Highlights
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

The highlight on the left eye is larger and brighter than the one on the right. This could mean that the left highlight is actually an unwanted speck. To fix the problem, so that both highlights look similar and natural, I will use the Clone Stamp tool to remove the two highlights, then use the Brush tool put them back in. Often a highlight is white, but in this case it would look more natural to have them be off-white. So with the Brush tool selected and its size set to 6 px, I will hold down the Alt or Option key as I click on a light area within the photograph to sample it, create a new layer, then click on the left eye then right to add two new highlights.

Know that it's not necessary to create a new layer when making additions to a photograph, but I find that doing so is helpful if ever I should need to go back and make edits.
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Repair Discoloration

Repair Discoloration
Text and images © Sandra Trainor

There is a ​blueish discoloration along the bottom and right sides of the photograph. I will fix this by replacing the pixels with the Clone Stamp tool and Patch tool. When done, I will zoom out, see if there's anything I've missed, and make further repairs if needed. And that's it! The process is simple once you know how, but takes time and patience to carefully do what is needed to retouch a photograph.