You've probably stumbled upon a photo collection from your grandparents, tucked away somewhere, left for ages. Since those photos will probably be older than you are, time and elements probably had taken their toll. However, with the modern technology and the power of Photoshop, most of that damage can be repaired, and some additional enhancement can be done as well.
It would be a nice present for a birthday of your grandparents if you had one or two of those images cleaned up, reprinted and framed for them, right? Especially now when that can be done very easily.
So, I will be using a photo I found on reddit/imgur, where the user is requesting some repair work to be done. Killing two birds with one stone, I’ll fix the image for the person, and you’ll get to see the steps taken in the process.
The original image
First of all, if you have the physical image, scan it as well as possible. Avoid photographing the image (except if you don’t have any choice) due to the fact that providing equal light is hard.
Now, make no mistake, there are countless ways to get to the same result, but I’ll present you the way I do the repairing.
Also, have in mind that there are many pictures that are beyond repair, or will have parts of it that can’t be repaired. since images get some sepia look due to dust and paper getting old (due to the acidic nature of the paper, caused by lignin).
Make The Image Black And White
So the first step is to revert the image to black and white. And I do this by going to Image -> Adjustments -> Black And White. I prefer this over desaturating because I have more control over the process.
Clean Up The Mess
After I have the image converted to black and white to my liking, I tend to drop some guides to make a grid for the cleaning process. This makes things easier for me because it is more organized, I take up one field, clean it, move on to the next one, etc.
The cleaning process involves Healing Brush Tool and Clone Stamp. I use Healing Brush where the Photoshop algorithms are smart enough to fix the issue, Clone Stamp when I have to do it manually.
First of all, we go through the easily fixable paper cracks and stains. That will provide more texture to sample from for the bigger cracks.
Note that you can use the Clone Stamp Tool in Lighten or Darken mode for tough spots. This is good for removing stains while maintaining the texture and detail inside. It will work more or less like dodge tool, but a bit less aggressive to the details. This can also be done with a brush if you want to paint something on it.
For tougher spots, you can use dodge and burn to repair lost detail by practically drawing them back in. This isn’t that hard of a process if you own a pen tablet with reasonable accuracy. I personally use Wacom Intuos S, the most basic one, and it does the trick.
If there is too much damage on certain facial aspect, for example, you can copy and flip the other side of the face and then fill in the blanks. Yes, I am aware that the left and right side aren’t exactly the same, but I think you’d rather fill in the blanks using the healthy part of the image rather than leaving big gap there, right?
When you are done cleaning the image of all the tears and creases, and you have removed the stains and all, it is time to enhance the photo a bit. For this process I usually use two high pass layers in order to enhance the sharpness and structure. Of course, there aren’t many fine details left in this picture, but local contrast does change quite a bit. The first High Pass layer is with 2-5 pixel radius, and the second one is with 20-50 pixels radius. They’re both set to overlay, and then the opacity is reduced by taste.
On top of that, setting the white and black point using curves as a final touch is what I usually do. You can do this by adding a curves adjustment layer, and then use the eyedropper tools on the curves panel to set the white and black point by sampling areas of the image which you think that should be white and black.
Finally, crop the image accordingly, or don’t if you don’t feel the need to do so, and check it again for any imperfections or anything you might have missed.
The final image