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Project: Restore Heirloom Photos

My sister and I wound up being the end of the line for several family trees. Like many families, between us we have no shortage of boxes of fascinating old photo prints. In my case I have photos on glass plates, tin-types, and old yellowed paper prints. Some are in astonishingly good shape. Others, which came from my grandparents who lived in Florida (not a photo-friendly climate) suffer from mold damage and water stains.

Are you in the same boat? Looking for a way to not only preserve photos but even digitally remove scratches and blotches? Then this project is for you. What you can do with a decent PC, scanner, and photo-editing software to remove scratches, wrinkles, and spots from a digitized photo is nothing short of astonishing!

In the previous chapter, you learned how to apply several special effects for the sake of pure creative fun. Here you will learn how to leverage some of the cool editing and repair tools found in programs such as Ulead’s PhotoImpact to touch up and restore damaged photos.


To complete this project you’ll need

  • Scanner connected to your personal computer.

  • Damaged, old, and faded print photos.

  • Photo-editing software with a touchup or repair feature. To save time, we’ll use the free trial version of Ulead’s PhotoImpact you downloaded and installed to do the activities in Chapter 2.


If you already downloaded, installed, and learned the basics for Ulead’s PhotoImpact, the following project takes about one hour. If not, add another hour to download and install the PhotoImpact program. For instructions to complete this process, see the Turn Your Photo into a Color Charcoal Drawing, an Impressionist Style Painting, or an Antiqued Photo project in Chapter 2.

Step 1: Select and Scan a Damaged Photo

Select a damaged photo print. The photo I’ll use for this exercise shows the farm buildings and corn field of my grandfather’s farm in Illinois, as shown in Figure 3.4. As you can see, some bad blotches and horizontal surface streaks have marred the image. Look carefully at the extreme left edge of the photo at the large vertical blotch. It’s that area we’ll repair in this exercise.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 This is a small, badly worn, 1930s era photo of my father’s childhood farm in Illinois. The photo is marred with streaks and discoloration that are ripe for digital repair.

Next, scan the photo to your PC using the steps outlined in the previous project. If necessary, refer to the Chapter 2 project, "Get a Digital Scan on Your PC." Again, if the photo is permanently affixed to an album that is not a good candidate for laying flat on a scanner surface, try using your digital camera. Make sure you create a special folder under the My Pictures area of your hard disk and name it Photo Repair Test.

Step 2: Open the Picture in PhotoImpact

Start up the PhotoImpact editing program by clicking Start, All Programs, Ulead PhotoImpact. Click File, Open on the top toolbar to navigate to the location of your damaged photo file.

After PhotoImpact opens and displays the photo, go to the top horizontal menu bar, and click Photo, ExpressFix (the first selection in the drop-down menu).

Step 3: Make Automatic Adjustments

Your first step is to allow PhotoImpact to automatically suggest adjustments to the basic settings such as contrast, sharpness, and so forth.

When you click ExpressFix, a new dialog box appears with your original scan on the top left and a view with various degrees of Overall Exposure adjustments applied, as shown in Figure 3.5.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 The ExpressFix feature presents the original digital image flanked by a version showing one of three optional automatic adjustments.

Note the three Overall Exposure auto adjustment options displayed in the lower area. Try all three and decide on the one you feel delivers the greatest overall improvement. Next look at the Steps toolbox to the left and try the remaining auto adjustment filters including Subject Exposure, Color Cast, Color Saturation, Focus and Beautify Skin (obviously for portraits). When you have applied the filters you like click OK and the changes are applied and the revised photo displayed.

Step 4: Touch Up the Photo

Now that you’re back at PhotoImpact’s main interface, look at the far left vertical strip filled with icons. Move your mouse pointer over the icon that looks like a flip-open compact case (the words Touch-up tool appear).

Click the Touch-up Tool icon and a Tool Settings—Brush dialog box appears with a variety of settings and adjustments you can play around with later. For now, just close out this dialog box and move your mouse over the surface of the digital image. You’ll see your mouse pointer now looks like a cross-hair target.

Your next move relies on pure gut judgment. The idea is to use the target pattern mouse pointer to select an area on your photo you think would match the damaged area. In my case, I started with the largest damaged area to the far left edge and placed the target on a good area very close to the large blotch. With the target pattern in place over a good zone, I held the Shift key down and clicked the mouse. The target pattern started to blink and remained in place. As I moved the mouse pointer it transformed into a circle shape.

Ready for the magic? If you’re following along using your own scanned photo, move your circle pattern mouse pointer to the damaged area, left-click your mouse, and start dragging the pointer over the area. Suddenly, you are painting the area with the color or pattern picked up by the cross-hair target. To repair a different area, hold the Shift key down and move your mouse pointer to a good spot next to a zone to be repaired. Left-click your mouse and it once again turns into a circle pattern. Although not always perfect, the effect can be remarkable, and in my case I was able to all but eliminate the visible damage on the far left edge (see Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 The virtual repair I pulled off with the Touch-up tool created a remarkable fool-the-eye result.

Keep painting the area until you are satisfied with the results. Repeat the process to repair other areas. Save the file under a new name so as to preserve the original scan.

Hey, you just learned a trick photo restoration professionals charge big bucks to do!

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