Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


Preserving the Past for the Future

One of my projects for the holidays, was to scan old family photos, restoring some of them as needed, to give to the youngest generation of my family.  So while it was my intent not to talk about technical matters in this blog, I thought it might be helpful to some.

But first, the great thing about digitizing old photos is that not only can you preserve them, but you can restore them and pass these on to family or friends who may want copies – now or maybe when they’re old enough to be nostalgic  :).

In the days of film photography, you didn’t usually get enough prints to pass around, and storing them was usually a haphazard event for most of us.  By the time we found them again, they were dusty, scratched, creased, faded or all of the above.  In addition, usually they came in fairly small sizes 4×6 or 5×7 if you were lucky.

When you digitize these old photos, you can scan them in at a high enough resolution to create a larger size print, and also take care of most minor problems and even some larger ones, in addition to have a better space-less way to organize your photos, and you can then email copies or put them on a thumb drive as I did to give to others.

ScanWindow Let me get one thing straight – scanning and restoring isn’t a fun task.  It’s quite tedious, so you don’t want to scan every odd photo you’ve taken or inherited over the last 30 years.  Go though your photos and pick out the best – ones that mean something to you or your family.  Choose those that show a person’s character, a happy memory, interesting old photos of ancestors, etc.  I’m even getting judicious with my digital photos.  I don’t want to sift through 5 similar photos – I try to pick the best.

I scan the photos in at a high resolution.  I put the resolution at 720dpi, and make sure the scanner knows I’m scanning a photo and not a document.  [See Screen Shot for my settings].  I also scan as many as will fit on my scanner device, usually 5-7 depending on the size of the original photo.

I like to scan as many files as I can bear at once, then open them up to work on in Photoshop.  You should be able to do most everything in Photoshop Elements or other photo editing software, but I do work in CS5 Photoshop extended.  I work in one file at a time.  I open file, (1) straighten the first photo, and (2) crop, then (3) Save As and this is important, to save as another file name, one that hopefully describes the photo.  If it is a photo I need to restore, enlarge, etc, I will store as a psd file or a tiff.  If there aren’t any changes to be made, I will store as a jpeg, but only if no changes will be needed.  This is because jpeg files lose a bit of quality and file data each time they are saved.  So even when I’m printing from a jpeg, I never save it, I open print, and then close without saving.

After you save the file, you either want to 4) click on the History window and then on the 1st panel underneath to restore the original scanned file.  Follow steps 1-4 for all scanned photos, and then close the original file without saving.

4You would now have (in this example) the original scanned file (Misc001.tif) and 5 other files that you named.

So lets take two of these files and use them for restoration.  I will open up the first one that is of myself as a wee girl.  The first thing I do is make a copy of the layer.  There’s always a number of ways to do anything, but the easiest to teach is to right click or Cntl Click on a Mac and duplicate the background layer.  Remember when you cropped, you still should have retained the original resolution of 720.

Dust and Scratches

I first use a Dust and Scratches filter under Menu Item – Filter then Noise then choose Dust and Scratches.  I have the photo at View Magnification of 100%.  You need to play around with the settings in order to get rid of some of the scratches and dust, but not blur the image too much. See before and after (use Preview).  In the example, 3 pixels gets some of the dust and scratches, but not around the mouth, whereas 4 gets most.  I will go with 4 pixels.


If you click off and on the 2nd layer  (eye), you will see some of the facial features have gotten too blurred.  I add a layer mask to the 2nd layer by clicking on the menu item: Layer, then Layer Mask, and then Reveal All (again I’m using Menu directions as you may not be familiar with icons).  “Reveal all” is a white layer, “Hide All” a black, and the rule is White Reveals (reveals the layer you’re working on and the adjustments on that layer that you’ve made, and Black Conceals). Make sure there is a double line around the layer mask (indicating you are working on the mask as opposed to the picture), then choose a black brush, sized appropriately, and opacity start around 40-50% and adjust opacity as you go. Start painting out some of the areas you want more detail/sharpness.  If you disclose a scratch, you can adjust the size of your brush and paint over in white.  I switch back and forth between viewing the first layer (detail but with scratches) and the 2nd layer, and also between black and white, until I have a good balance between preserving sharpness and getting rid of dust and scratches. LayerMask

Tough Spots

For some of the other spots that haven’t been cleaned up by Dust and Scratches, I use a combination of the  spot healing brush (smaller more controllable size) and the clone-stamping tool to correct those areas.  I get in really close, a view magnification between 200-300%.  You also may need to zoom in and zoom out to judge your work.  You can use the history window to go back a few steps if you made a mistake, so checking your work is a good thing.

Faded Colors

A place to start is the Auto Color.   I would advise merging visible WHILE holding down the Option key (at least in Mac); it creates a new layer from the visible layers and then doing the auto colors.

Next you can do some adjustment layers – from Menu, Layer – New Adjustment Layer and either Photo Filter or a combination of both.  Again, these are adjustment layers, so they’re non-destructive to your scanned image, and you can always deaftercoloradjslete the layer and start again. In this case I used a blue cooling filter and adjusted the density on the filter to about 5%.  Your preference may be for warmer tones (more yellow); I felt this image needed blue for cooler.  Again, you can use layer masks to only adjust parts of your photo, or using the layer adjustment and changing the opacity of your brush, make your adjustments to varying degrees on say flesh tones versus clothes versus foliage.

The opacity of each layer can also be adjusted for fine-tuning.


One of the things I usually finish with on any photo is a slight tweak to a Curves Layer.  Add an Adjustment Layer, choose Curves.  A slight S shape usually adds a bit more contrast and makes the photo pop.  Again, you can adjust according to your taste and back off the change by adjusting the opacity of the adjustment layer. (See Before vs. Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 4.37.34 PMAfter pictures below.) I did a very slight curves adjustment here.

When you’re satisfied with the results, Flatten Image.


Here you can enlarge the photo by going to the Menu and choosing Image, Size, click off the Resample Image, and choose the width or height you want.  You will want to keep on eye on the Resolution.  300 ppi is good for prints, but you can go as low as 240ppi. For screen, you can reduce it more much more.  Let’s say I’m looking for an 8×10 or in this case 10×8.  I click off the Resample Image field; change the height to 8, and the resolution is now 401.  [If I know I won’t be printing out a larger size than this, I can click back on Resample Image, and change resolution to 300 to reduce the file size.]  Click okay.  The file is now actually  8×11.5, so I use the crop tool, with 10 and 8 in appropriate fields and resolution field blank, and crop to match whatever composition I want.  If you will be cropping both height and width, then don’t reduce the resolution (bracketed words above) until after this step.

Now save file, as a Tiff, or if you won’t be making changes or saving again, as a jpg (smaller file size to store).


      After: orig


This was much longer than I expected, so I will do a follow-up later, talking about black and white restoration in my next blog.

This, again is not something you’re going to want to do with every photo – a light dust and scratches filter might be enough, but if you want to print these or for special photos, it is worth the effort.