The Secret to Posing Models for Photographers

  I had a friend who was trying to get started in a modeling career. I looked through her portfolio for her to try and help her pick out the strongest photos she had. She was working with local portrait studios and people who were starting out their career as professional photographers. I noticed a […]

Restoring Old Family Photos

Cleaning Up Old Family Photos Thumbnail

For the past few days I’ve been making a photo album for my dad as a gift and I thought I would use it as an opportunity for my first real tutorial! I’ve been taking old photos of my grandparents and fixing them up so that they’re print quality. For this one we’re gonna go through the steps with a photo of my dad when he was a kid.

The Original


Before Photo Editing

Nice example for a lot of problems, right?! It’s blurry, it’s dull, it’s scratched up, and perfect for a tutorial!

1. Resize

This step is only because I intent to print this image. Otherwise, it is unnecessary because (I believe..) all images for the web are 72 ppi.

So I check the image size to see what the ppi is set to. It’s 72ppi, and I want to use the resize to keep it the same print size but have more pixels, so I change the ppi to 300ppi and keep resampling on. This because it makes me feel like I have more control over my alterations, but it’s only really needed for print. Here is an image to demonstrate what this does. Square #1 is a 100×100 pixel image at 72ppi (the same as the original photo). This square was pasted in before we resized it. *The second square is the same as the first, but pasted in after the image was resized to 300ppi.

after resize
Image is still the same size as the original, but *


2. Adjusting Levels with Accuracy

First make sure you have adjustments & info checked on in your window:

window settings

Create a Threshold adjustment layer (In the layer panel click on the adjustment layer button that looks like this:

creating a threshold adjustment layer

We are now looking at the clipping of the previous layer. In the adjustments window move the slider on the graph all the way to the left and then back slowly to the right until you see the first area of black appear. This is the darkest spot in the image.

Selecting the darkest point using eyedropper

Now click the eyedropper icon. Change the sample size of the eyedropper from “point sample” to “5 by 5 avg.” (This is just what I like to use. This is a real helpful tip when working with color images!)

eyedropper settings

Using the eyedropper, shift+click the darkest spot you see. You will notice that it has saved this as #1 in the info pannel.

Now move the slider to the opposite side in the adjustment pannel until you find the lightest spot and with the eyedropper, shift+click in the lightest spot.

the lightest spot seen via threshold

When you look at the info pannel now you will notice it saved info for #2. From this information we can see how accurate our point selection really was. My first numbers for #1 were higher, more like: 13,17,14. So I go back to the point on the image, hold shift and drag it slowly in the area that looks the darkest until my numbers get slightly closer to 0,0,0 (black). Now I can see that the darkest point is actually 9,10,9. Which isn’t waaaaay too far off from 0,0,0 so it will be a small adjustment, but it will set our black correctly. You can see that the white was almost spot on, so it won’t make much difference at all.

Info panel

Next you select the points for the levels using the eyedropper in the adjustment pannel with it’s corresponding mark…. In my case this makes a super small adjustment. So it seems like I probably didn’t need to do this step, but I still like to because then I can control the midpoint in the levels to my personal prefference with peace of mind, knowing that my black and white were correctly placed. (lol)

original before any photo editing
after contrast adjustments
After Level Adjustments


3. Clean Up Time!

Next I use the magical spot heal tool: spot heal tool in photoshopwith these settings:


Thanks to photoshop’s neat content aware feature, you can use this for almost all situations to clean up the black spots in this photo. Sometimes it worked on the white lines. When it doesn’t “work” it usually is sampling a spot darker or lighter than what you want. Sometimes you can try going in the opposite direction with it and it will fix the issue. Other times you might need to use the patch tool    patch tool in photoshop which gives you the ability to lasso-style select the problem area. Then after you’ve made the selection, drag the selected area to a similar area and you will see the selection update as you go so you can line up shadows, or details.

In some really finnicky situations, neither option works very well. This is when I pull out the handy dandy brush tool, set the BRUSH to either darken or lighten on a low opacity with hardness turned down and at a size appropriate for the area. then I mannually select a color I want to change it to by holding down the ALT-key. And paint over the problem manually.

Now I have something more like this:

After Clean Up


4. Sharpen & Blur!

Duplicate the layer with your final clean-up fixes.

Filter > Other > High Pass

Values 250, 125, 62, 31, 15, 7.5


Use sharpened details to draw attention to the area we should be focusing. Here it’s the person. This also gives the feel of some depth since as we get closer the details get sharper.

Personally I thought it was all really even still so I blurred out the backgound too to help focus it even more. When you do blur, remember that it’s supposed to mimmick depth of field which means that if part of an object it blurred, the rest will be blurred out too. If you think foreground/mid/back and chose one of those to focus on, that is helpful.

Compare The Result: