In part one of our restoration series, we show you how to bring faded, tatty and creased photos back to life and even add colour to black-and-white pictures
Photos are said to capture a moment in time, but time itself has a knack of being harsh on prints. After all, they are only made of paper and, unless you maintain British Museum-level standards of archival care, they can easily become victim to fingerprint grease, creases, tears and the photo-fading power of the sun’s rays.
Not long ago, restoring a photo print was a painstaking task that involved precision skills and expensive professional equipment and software.
Read more: photo and image editing tips
These days, just about anybody can carry out a restoration job using a home computer, scanner and free software and it’s possible to return almost even the most dog-eared photo to a fit and healthy state. You don’t need to be an expert in graphic design, either.
In this guide – the first in a three-part series about restoring old photo, video and audio collections – we will provide all the knowledge needed to rescue old prints from ruin.
What do I need?
The most important element of the modern photo-repair toolkit is a computer. The technical requirements of the job at hand are fairly low and just about any computer bought over the last half decade or so will be more than capable of carrying out the task.
A scanner is also required. Again, almost any scanner will do. An A4-sized flatbed model is usually the best bet, but multifunction devices that combine printer, scanner and copier all in one will be fine too.
If you don’t own a scanner and have just a few prints to repair, then consider asking a friend to do the scanning on your behalf, and email the pictures to you.
Here we are dealing with the process of digitising and restoring photo prints. It is possible to scan negatives and slides, if that is what you have, but most flatbed scanners require separate adapters to do this. Dedicated products are also available, such as the budget-priced Veho VFS-002, available for under £40 from Amazon.
Scanning negatives and slides may require a special attachment
• Got many prints to digitise? Position several photos on the scanner, scan them in all at once and separate them using an image-editor.
• When you scan one photo, scanning the whole flatbed area is a waste of time. The scanning software should allow a box to be dragged around the correct area.
• Modern scanners are capable of resolutions of 4,800dpi and beyond. But higher resolutions mean bigger files and slower editing. Scanning at 300dpi is enough if you plan to print the results at the same size. Use 600dpi to print enlargements.
• The scanning software may include options to alter brightness, contrast and so on during the scanning process. It’s best to disable these effects and make all adjustments using an image-editing program.
• Even if you are scanning a black-and-white photo, scan it using colour settings. Then change the tint in the image-editing program if necessary.
The final piece of the puzzle is software. Professional-grade programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, can cost hundreds of pounds but, thankfully, high-quality image-editing applications are available much cheaper than that – all the way down to free.
Indeed, your scanner probably includes a photo-editing program of some description, so check here first. Sometimes scanners are supplied with applications that are designed for restoring old photos.
Otherwise, Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 8 is a cheaper, simpler version of the company’s flagship product, which retails for around £75. At the bottom of the budget scale, in commercial terms, is Corel Paintshop Photo Express, which you can get for under £20 online.
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