Sharper Images

By Chad Neuman Premium

Photos don’t always age gracefully. Your old black-and-white portraits may be dotted with dust and scratches. The images might have yellowed or faded. In your ancestors’ day, the only way to fix bartered pictures was to take them to an expensive photo retoucher. With today’s computer technology and a little practice, however, even amateurs can scan, repair and enhance old family photos, then print out new copies that look as good as the day the pictures were snapped.


Most people think of programs such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, both created by Adobe <>, as tools for working with color images. But these powerful programs can come to the rescue of your old black-and-white photos, too. Their tools let you sharpen a scanned image, “clone” areas, visually repair torn or damaged photos, blur defects and even colorize black-and-white pictures. Best of all, you can experiment without risking further damage to your precious originals.

You’ll need a scanner to get digital versions of your damaged photos into your computer. You’ll need a computer, of course — both Photoshop and its inexpensive sibling Photoshop Elements work on Macs as well as PCs. And you’ll need a printer to share your retouched images with the rest of the family. Once you’re equipped, try these tricks.

Do away with dust and scratches.

The easiest way to get rid of scratches on your scanned photo is to use the Dust & Scratches tool, found in the Noise group under the Filter menu. This tool slightly blurs the image, removing scratches and dust that may have accumulated on it. After using the Dust & Scratches tool, try the Unsharp Mask tool. It sharpens the image so it’s not as blurry.
You also can “stamp” out imperfections with the Clone tool (it looks like a rubber stamp). After selecting the Clone tool, hold down the Alt key (option key on a Mac) and click in an area that’s similar to what you’d want to see in place of the dust or scratch mark. Then just click the damaged area of your photo to “clone” the good area onto the bad. This also is useful in touching up blemishes on people’s faces; just clone an unblemished area onto the blemish.

Another easy technique is to use the Eye-dropper tool to copy a part of the picture that has a similar color, and then use the Paintbrush tool to paint over the dust or scratch.

Try different tools to figure out which works best for the situation. The right tool will depend on the texture of the background around the scratch or dust, your intended effect and the amount of control needed to achieve that effect.


These three related fixes work best for targeted touchups. If you cry to use them on the entire image, rather than a single damaged area, they tend to blur the picture — sometimes more than you’d like.

That leads us to our final dust-and-scratch-eliminating method, which takes longer and requires the full Photoshop program, but yields a better end result. First select the Dust & Scratches tool, and move the tool slider to the left. Then move Radius and Threshold to the right until the dust and scratches are removed (the slightly blurry effect is OK — we’ll fix that).

Now select the History window and click on Take New Snapshot (not available in Photoshop Elements) to save your cleaned-up photo as Snapshot 1. Next, select Edit, then Undo Dust & Scratches — that puts your picture back to where you started. Select the History Brush tool and click on the little box to the left of Snapshot 1 in the History window. Then, select the Blending Mode on the toolbar. If you have dark spots on a light background, choose Lighten; to fix light spots on a dark background, choose Darken. Select the brush size, and then brush over the dust and scratch spots. (For more on this method, see <>.)   

Let the light in.

As a photo fades, shadows diminish, making the image look flat. By experimenting with the settings on the Adjust tools (round under the Image menu), such as Brightness/Contrast and Levels, you can alter the light and the shadows in an old photo. The Variations command (also under the Image menu) lets you darken shadows, thus creating more contrast in the picture.

Add a touch of color.

Many Photoshop and Photoshop Elements users think that “colorizing” a photo means just painting over it with the Paintbrush tool. But the texture of the underlying area gets lost when the Paintbrush lays down only a selected color, leading to a two-dimensional appearance when you want a 3-D look. Photoshop offers a better way.

The first step in colorizing an old black-and-white picture you’ve scanned in shades of gray (“grayscale”) is to convert it to RGB format (short for Red-Green-Blue). Simply click on the Image menu, then hover over Mode and select RGB.

Now pick an a tea that you want to change to a specific color — your Civil War ancestor’s blue Union cap, for example. Select the area with the Lasso tool; or if it’s a defined shape such as a circle or a square, use the regular selection tools. Next, in Photoshop Elements, select Enhance, then Adjust Color, then Hue/Saturation. (In Photoshop, it’s Image, then Adjust, then Hue/Saturation.) When you click on the Colorize box, the program automatically colors your selected area — no painting required. You can adjust the color by changing the levels of hue, saturation and lightness. Click and drag on the adjustment toggles, or type a value in the number field.

The Variations command also lets you colorize a black-and-white photograph. Select the area exactly as you did before, but instead of following the steps above, select Image, then Adjust, then Variations. From the Variations box, you can add more color to that area, such as yellow, red and so forth. The shadows, midtones, highlights and saturation can all be adjusted on the toolbar.

With a little practice, you can make copies of your old family photos that look as good as new — or better. Before you know it, you’ll be Photoshopping out that black sheep in the family and updating your geeky clothes in your own high school snapshots.
From the May 2004 Preserve Your Family History 


Boost Your scanning skills
Allison Stacy

Successful photo retouching starts with a good scan. If you don’t digitize pictures properly, you’ll end up doing extra work to get the results you want. Save time and effort in your Photoshop endeavors by heeding this advice at the scanner:

Be sure the glass is clean. Stray dust or dirt on your scanner creates even more blemishes for you to fix. Wipe down the glass with a soft, lint-free cloth, and be gentle: if you scratch the surface, it’ll show up in all your scans.

Always preview. Don’t send your image directly to Photoshop — you’ll save time by troubleshooting first. Scanning software lets you preview your picture before you make the final scan. (Many programs will automatically detect a photo on the scanner and preview it when you launch the software.) In the preview window, you can tell if the image is crooked or there’s fuzz on the glass. You also can change the settings and see what effect they’ll have on the scan — before you commit to them.

Get the right resolution. Digital-imaging gurus usually advise scanning at the lowest resolution that produces a good image, so your files don’t gobble up your hard drive space. That’s sound advice, but when you’re sprucing up timeworn photos, be wary of setting the resolution too low. You typically need 300 to 600 dots per inch (dpi) to get a print-quality image. To correct little imperfections, though, you might want to blow up the area without losing clarity. For example, say you want to work on a ½-inch section of a 5×7 photo. You might not see enough detail when you zoom in on a 300-dpi image; in that case, a resolution of 600 dpi could be a better choice. You can decrease the resolution — and the file size — once you’ve finished retouching.

Also consider what size you want the finished picture to be, and set the resolution accordingly. Remember: You can always increase the resolution by making an image smaller, but you’ll lose resolution when you enlarge the image. So if you want to make the image bigger, you should scan the picture at a higher resolution from the get-go.

Optimize your output. Just as there’s an appropriate resolution for every scanning job, there’s an appropriate output. This is the option in your scanning utility that calibrates the scanner for the type of material you’re digitizing — a color photograph, grayscale photograph or line art, for example. Be sure to pick the corresponding setting: Scanning Great-grandma’s class picture as line art could result in an indistinguishable mass of students. And note that there’s no advantage to scanning a black-and-white photo as color — it’ll just increase the file size. You may get better contrast and crispness in grayscale, anyway.

Crop before you scan. Old photos often have frayed, torn or folded edges. Rather than retouching the entire background, you can simply crop them out of the photo. (But be careful not to delete any important image details, such as props, buildings or the photographers’ imprints that often appear on old photographs’ cardboard backings.) Scanning software lets you crop your pictures before you create the final scan; usually, this involves merely adjusting the image selection in the preview window. (Drag the dotted lines around the picture until they enclose the area of the photograph you want to scan.) You’ll eliminate some damage, give your scan a crisp edge and reduce the file size.

Pick the best file format. For the uninitiated, image formats might look like alphabet soup: TIF, GIF, PSD, PNG, JPG … Here’s how to get past the letters and understand each file type’s purpose. JPG and GIF files are great for posting online — they compress an image’s data, so it loads quickly on a Web page. The compression does erase information from the file, though. So for preservation copies or images you’ll print, save files in TIF format, which retains the most detail. (Publications — including this one — often use TIFs because of their image quality.) TIF, JPG and GIF are all universal formats that any photo software will recognize. You should avoid “proprietary” formats (those specific to your particular program) if you want to share your digitized photos with relatives.
From the May 2004 Preserve Your Family History


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