1. Design & Illustration
  2. Add-Ons

How To Repair Scratches, Tears, and Spots on an Old Photograph

Scroll to top
Read Time: 4 min

In this tutorial you will learn how to repair cracks, scratches, and spots so this photo of the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, looks just like new. We will purposely avoid using some of the quick fix tools such as the healing brush so that you can gain an understanding of the basics of photo restoration. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

Take a look at the image we'll be creating. 

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Photoshop
  • Version: 7 and up
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: About 4 to 5 hours

Jenny LindJenny LindJenny Lind

Step 1 - Open and Prepare Image for Editing

You can download the source image for this tutorial here. Open the image in Photoshop. Right click on the background layer and select "Duplicate Layer..."

Double click the new layer and rename it "Restoration". Either lock or hide the background layer so that you can reference it later. Save often.

Step 2 - Apply a Levels Adjustment Layer

Select the Adjustment Layers pallet, then select Levels. Use the settings in this screenshot. Black point at 7, white point at 243.

Step 3 - Set the Eyedropper Tool Sample Size

Select tool (i) and set to a 5 px by 5 px average sampling area.

Step 4 - Retouch the White Spots and Scratches

Using a Soft Round Brush (B) of about 21 pixels, with a hardness of 0, and blending mode set to darken, start filling in the voids in the photo.

This step is more art than science. Those of you with a Wacom Tablet will have a definite advantage. Option + Click on an area right next to the void to pick up the adjascent tonal values. If you are using a tablet you can vary the pen pressure to build up values gradually. Using a mouse, set the opacity of the brush to about 50%. Work over the complete image, filling in all of the white voids with adjascent values trying to maintain natural contours.

Increase and decrease the brush size as needed. You can use the blur tool with the blending mode set to darken to touch up small specks and blemishes. When you are finished the photo should look something like this.

Step 5 - Lighten the Dark Areas

Use exactly the same techniques in reverse.

Set the brush tool to the lighten overlay mode, and to clean up dark specks, set the Blur Tool to lighten. Rework the shadows and highlights again to catch flaws missed the first time. When you are finished the photo should look something like this.

Step 6 - Correct the Uneven Background

To not destroy detail in the current painted backdrop, we will work on a new layer to correct the background.

Create a new layer and name it "background corrections".

Use a relatively large brush of about 400 px to 500 px, with the blending mode set to normal, and a 50% to 80% opacity, begin to even out the background tones.

If you make a mistake, just use the eraser tool with the same settings to correct. Take your time and rework until you are satisfied with the results. Your results may look something like this.

Step 7 - Focus on Jenny Lind's Face

Zoom in and make the final corrections on Jenny's face with a 25 px brush, blending mode normal, opacity 70%. Here are the areas of concern, smooth these out to the best of your ability.

Since Jenny Lind was a famous performer, there will be an abundance of reference photos to assist in filling in some of the detail. In this case we are lucky to have another photo of Jenny available from the Library of Congress. This photo is almost identical in pose, expression, and lighting; so we will paste a copy of Jenny's face from the reference photo onto the restoration.

Align the photo directly over the face. You will need to scale the picture up and rotate a little to get the correct alignment.

Using the layers mask tool delete most of the reference photo except for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Here is how that might appear.

Now I will merge this layer down to the restoration layer, and finish the final details. Here's the result.

Step 8 - Add Noise

Merge the background corrections layer and the levels adjustment layer with the restoration now. Then Right-Click on your restoration layer and select "Duplicate Layer...".

Select "Filter > Texture > Grain" and apply these settings. You can rename this layer "Grain" if you like.

Play with the opacity and blend modes on this until you get a nice grain texture throughout the photo. This step masks the smoothness of the restoration and blends it seamlessly into the original photo.

Step 9 - Save a Copy

Save a copy for output to a printer of your choice.


You're finished! Bask in the warm glow of the praise you will receive for your new found photo restoration skills!

Did you find this post useful?
Want a weekly email summary?
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Design & Illustration tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.
One subscription. Unlimited Downloads.
Get unlimited downloads