How to Restore a Black and White Photo

Restoring a mid-century black and white photoAs you’ve probably guessed, black and white photography isn’t new – for many years, and decades, it was the only choice in preserving your memories. In recent years, my mom has given us restored photos of my family – baby pictures of herself, or of my grandparents when they were young. Its a beautiful gift to have memories of time past that is directly connected to us. It’s like looking into history.

How you can have a little bit of history back

Have you come across some old photos that need a little tender-loving-care? There are two basic ways to restore old black and white photos yourself. The first is through water color or archival pens, and the other is through digital means. I’ll go over both for you.

First, before you do any work, I highly recommend you scan the original photo into your computer. That way you have an original image saved encase the restoration doesn’t come-out as you might expect it to.

Hand Touch-ups of Black and White photos

It’s best to do hand touch-ups of black and white photos that have just a few issues – like a slight scratch, or mark, or even just the image has faded over time due to sun exposure. If there are a lot of issues, or an actual tear, you’ll need to work on the the photo through Photoshop.

1. Use either acid-free, or ‘archival quality’ water colors, and Pigma Micron ‘archival’ pens. The reason you want to use acid-free is so that the ink does not fade or discolor over time.

2. Use the fine point to gently apply the ink. Have some q-tips close by to pick-up any extra ink or smudges.

3. For larger areas, such as darkening the faded black on the black and white photo, use the water color – but not too wet. We don’t want the photo to warp as it drys. Use a very faint color, with just a damp brush to go over the faded areas and darken the image to it’s original beauty.

4. Let dry before you put it back into the frame. To help with future damage, put the image in a frame or photo-album that states it is ‘acid free’, and keep out of direct sunlight.

I’ve recently done this technique myself for an image we bought of our two sons. During shipping a slight scratch went over the black area of the image, and I used a Pigma Micron pen to touch up the scratch. Now you can’t tell the scratch was ever there!

To touch-up black and white photos using Photoshop

If you are going to go the ‘digital’ route, the first thing you need to do is save an original scan of the black and white photo and make a copy in the computer for the image you’ll be working on.

1. With the copy of the original scan of the black and white image, open it in Photoshop and save as a PSD (Photoshop) file.

2. Create A Layer of the Background CopyWith ‘Layers’, make a copy of the original image. Not only does this help you keep the original in-tact and help you to restore mistakes during your restoration, it also helps you to easily switch back and forth with the original layer to the edited layer so you can see how ‘natural’ the restoration is looking.

Healing Brush3. Using either the ‘Healing Brush’ or ‘Clone Stamp’, start to rebuild the image. This takes patience, so take breaks as you start to rebuild. Realize that if the image is really damaged it could take hours to restore to a natural look.

Clone Stamp4. Remember to save, and save often (Ctrl + S to save quickly). Don’t be afraid  to use more than one layer of image as you’re restoring. Simply creating copies of your most recent layer when you’re ready to move onto another part of the image.

If you’re not familiar with Photoshop, this may be something you want to ask a professional photography restoration company to tackle. What could take you weeks – or even months if you have to learn the software – could take a professional restoration company only a few hours.

How to Preserve the Beauty of a Black and White Photo after Restoration

One of the reasons Nirzhar and I love black and white photography is because of the simple fact that you can have centuries old photos next to photos that were taken just the other day, and it becomes a seamless and beautiful wall of photographs and artwork. It’s elegant beauty seems to stand the test of time! To help it last just as long, be sure to preserve your images in acid-free albums and frames, keep out of direct sunlight, and never use harsh chemicals to clean. If you must clean an image, then use a very-lightly moistened cotton cloth and wipe in one direction. For frames that are open – no glass – then be sure the image is protected with a layer of clear coating to help protect it against dust and particles.

Enjoy your happy memories.