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Age Spots

There are tons of digital photo restoration tutorials online these days, on fixing torn pieces on old photos, and matching colors when adding things to the photo.

One recent tutorial put torn pieces back and then matched the color because the tones were different. The two pieces matched perfectly, with very little effort, even though these two halves had been apart long enough, and far enough apart that they were two completely different colors / tones.

All I can say about that is that this particular photo has to be the luckiest piece of paper on the planet. The harsh reality is that very, very few old photos that have pieces torn completely off will still be complete, as in all the pieces still around. If they do happen to all survive, the pieces won’t have all nice, clean edges – I don’t mean knife sharp edges, clean as in fitting together perfectly with the edge it was torn from. The paper will have torn, cracked, peeled, and split over time, on all the pieces, in different areas.

The tones, though, those will be fairly the same on all the pieces if they’re all kept together. They are all the same composition of paper and chemicals and the atmosphere they’re kept in will be the same. If these pieces are kept that far apart to result in completely different tones, you will truly be among the charmed ones to still not only have them but to be able to figure out exactly which photo belongs to the missing pieces. Granted, if the photo is torn in half, with two large pieces, there’s more of a chance the pieces, at least will still be around, but the chances of a clean fit between pieces and two completely different tones are still slim to none.

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However, there are certain things that happen to photos of a certain age, those 70-somethings and older, all the time. Missing pieces – I mean really missing, as in gone, “age spots” those nasty little specks and blemishes, scratches, cracks, faded areas, disappearing sky’s and fingerprints. Let’s start with something easy: “Age spots”.

Age spots, not an official name, mind you, just what I call them (yet another Janine-ism), can be caused by little chips in the top layer of a photo or by rust, acid or dust. They can be light, dark, black, brown, red or white. They can be – will be – on old photos, but can and do show up on photos of any age. What they’re made up from matters, of course, in the further preservation of the photo (for instance, if it’s being eaten by acid, best you find out the source of the acid. If it’s an external source, such as what the photo is stored in, you need to find alternative storage solutions, fast!), it doesn’t matter much in terms of digital photo restoration. Yes, you’ll need to find different ways of repairing different damage – what works for tiny little specks isn’t going to work the same for large patches of black mold, but for our purposes, today, we’re going to call a spot a spot. No matter what caused it, what color it is, or how small it is, it needs to be fixed.

Did I really mean to say that? Seriously, some of those spots are so tiny! Why in the world would something that you can’t even see except on a monitor at 300% zoom need to be fixed? Well, that is the clincher, here, folks! If it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to do right!

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This is a photo a client brought to me to fix the color, and to take care of the rather obvious piece missing on the baby’s forehead. That and the bend at the top left is all the client thought was wrong with this. After seeing the photo magnified with an 8X loupe, they were shocked and they didn’t even see the whole picture, so to speak.

This is an area with all (I know, I missed a few!) the spots that should be fixed, if you’re doing a really good restoration. To give you an idea of the context, here’s the same area taken back a little.

I said it was one of the easy fixes, and it is. I never said it would be quick! It takes patience and maybe more than a few breaks, especially when your eyes start going all fuzzy, but it will be very much worth it when it’s done, because it will be done right! Good tools to use for this are the Healing Brush and the Clone stamp tools. The Patch Tool might be alright for some of the larger areas, but all that making selections would get really old, really fast. Even the Clone Tool could get fairly monotonous, so I’d use the Healing Brush as much as I could. Remember, the Healing Brush, as well as the Patch Tool, only work on a ‘filled’ layer, one that actually contains pixels, so make a copy of your original to work on (CMD or Ctrl + J). Keep your selection brush on the small size, just a tiny bit larger than the area you’re ‘healing’.

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Work on the bigger spots first, zooming in to about 200%. Next, go up to 300%. Maybe even 400% on your next pass. No magic fix-it tutorial, just time and patience! Fixing ‘age spots on your old photos really is easy! It’s the patience that’s hard! Below is a non-finished ‘after’ shot. It’s a brand new project I just got Monday (2 days before this runs) so I haven’t had the time, yet, to finish! Like I said, it’s not fast work, but doing it the right way is imminently the most rewarding work!

About Janine Smith (114 Articles)
Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters. <br> Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies. <br> In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine. <br> Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.

6 Comments on Age Spots

  1. I have to disagree. Fixing things that will not show even on close inspection at print resolution is just a waste of time and effort, not ‘doing things right’. I hope you weren’t charging her by the hour. And if you aren’t then you are shortchanging yourself. As someone who has made a living as a professional retoucher, I know you have to balance getting a good result with producing enough work to pay the bills.

    I don’t know what you did besides spotting on this print, but I noticed that all the detail in the clothing was lost in the finished version. I think a little more time on preserving that would be a fair trade off for less spotting!

  2. Hi Jenn. We’ll have to agree to disagree, then, and that’s ok! No, I don’t charge by the hour and I DO believe it’s doing things right. As I said, this was an unfinished result I posted, just shown for the sake of the spots. There will be nothing lost, in the final product, I assure you! Do I short change myself? Probably. But I have to do the best job I know how and as long as I and my clients are good with that, that’s alright. Thank you for your input…I value all comments made about my tutorials!

  3. Jenn- I’m curious, are you looking at the small picture or the large picture? http://www.tipsquirrel.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/age_bef_aft.jpg

    When I look at the large picture, I can’t find the loss of detail that you mention. But then, I’m not a restoration artist. I was wondering if you could point out the area you were talking about in the large photo so that I could see what you were talking about?

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

  4. I think it is the attention to detail and the pride in her work that makes Janine the award winner that she is. I too work at the level Janine suggests. This ensures that the image can be enlarged without adding more work. This could be at a much later date of course. There is also the element of knowing that you have done the job well, self satisfaction is the greatest reward for me. The truth is, the better you are with Photoshop the less people should notice.

    Speaking of which. I can’t see a loss of detail on this image either. Maybe you could expand on your earlier comment?

    Thank you for visiting TipSquirrel.com, and for initiating an interesting discussion.

  5. OK, I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday and I just have to put in here. I think if your going to take a job on you should do it right or don’t do it all. If you tell someone your going to fix it, then you fix all of it or at least what can be fixed. To do anything less, even if it can’t be seen at print res is short changing your customer and not saying much for yourself. Unless you explain all this to your customer when you except the job. However, like Tip pointed out, people like to enlarge their images these days. And there is software out there for people to do it on their own. As that image grows so will those spots. Then you have a customer going ” I thought she said she fixed this?” No, I rather do it right the first time and give my customers what I promised them.

    I am not seeing any loss of detail either. So I am not sure what your talking about there.

  6. Shauna Redmond // March 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm //

    I have to second that motion. No offense Jenn, but I really don’t see any detail loss on that picture. If anything the “new” vibrancy enhances the details on the clothing. The ripples etc are much more in depth then they were. I only do jobs like this for the sake of blowing up the photo to posters for funerals, so I’d have to agree, it is always a good idea to fix everything and do it right the first time. It creates repeat business and referrals because they can count on you. Do a bad job then your customers don’t come back or tell their friends.

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