How to Remove Damage from Old Photos in 10 Easy Steps

Here’s how to remove damage from photos, such as those commonly found on Polaroid Land pictures. It’s a simple digital photo restoration technique you can use to improve your old family photos. See how Lisa Louise Cooke cleaned up a precious family photo as a surprise for an guest she interviewed—and his touching response. 

restore damaged photos - photo restoration on your phone

Last month, I asked esteemed film historian Sam Gill to send me some photos of himself that I could include on the “show notes” page for Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #215. The episode features our conversation on silent films, and the glimpse of early 20th century life that they provide. 

One of the images he shared captures him (when he was in high school) and his mom. Sam told me that it was taken at the time when he started helping her with their family’s genealogy.

 

“I seem to have only one photograph of my mother and me at that time, which was what they called a Polaroid Land Pictures photo,” he continued. “In the days before selfies and digital cameras, this was a way to have a photo miraculously developed in sixty seconds. That was considered a miracle of photography at the time.

“Although these photos tended to leave streak marks and other blemishes, it’s all I got! I am hoping you might get a kick out of seeing this young kid and his intelligent, forever-curious and talented mother, Florence Louise Jones Gill (aka Mom).”

After learning how much the memories behind that photo meant to Sam, I took the liberty of doing some quick touch up work on it. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly cleaner:

how to repair and remove streaks from photos

A treasured old photo of Sam and his mom.

You can try the same techniques I used to remove damaged areas from photos you’ve digitized. It’s easy and free! So, follow along with me, and then keep reading for Sam’s response to receiving the cleaned-up photo.

How to remove damage from photos

(Update) In the past I have downloaded and used the free Adobe PhotoShop Fix app.  However, the Adobe Photoshop Express app has now taken its place. You can download it onto your phone or other mobile device for free from the App Store or Google Play. You will find the Retouch feature as a Premium feature.

Then follow these steps:

1. Add a Copy of the Digital Image

Open the app and tap the Plus sign to add your image. Don’t work with the original photo file. I save mine in Dropbox, but you can also pull your image copies from your phone, Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Facebook or Google Photos. 

Add the digital copy of your old photo to Adobe Fix to be restored

Tap the plus sign and select the location of your photo.

2. Tap Healing in the Menu

This will get you to the tools you will need to do the restoration. 

Tap Healing to begin restoring your old photo

3. Start with Minor Repairs

Start with the easy stuff (don’t go for the face right away,thought it’s tempting). Work on clothing and the backdrop first so you can get a feel for the repair work and refine your retouching movements.

4. Apply the Spot Heal Tool

Use Spot Heal first and see if it takes care of the problem area. Don’w worry about making mistakes. You can always tap the Undo at the top of the screen if you’re not happy with the results.

5. Apply Clone Stamp

Use the Clone Stamp tool to select an area on the existing photo that you want to duplicate to cover up a damaged area. For example you can select an unblemished area of the backdrop, duplicate it, and then “paste” it over a blemished area of the backdrop. Keep in mind that even in a single color backdrop, there can be shading, so move the clone stamp around to replicate it accurately. 

Clone stamp can replace damaged areas on your photo

Tap Clone Stamp in the menu, and use the tools on the left to adjust.

You can adjust the size of the clone stamp selection tool by tapping “Size” in the pop out menu on the left. Selecting “hardness” will give you the ability to cone with a sharp edge or a more feathered edge which is a bit more forgiving when covering another area. 

6. Zoom for Greater Detail

Zoom in for better accuracy. To do this, put two fingers together and then them spread apart to enlarge the area.

While zooming in can give you greater control, if you get too close you may start seeing individual pixels (depending on the size and resolution of the original photo) and those can be much trickier to change accurately. Zoom back out often to “stand back” and inspect your work!

7. Adjust as Needed

If you’re going to zoom in, take the time to adjust the size of the tool you are using, whether it’s Spot Heal or Clone Stamp. You can adjust the size of the circle and the “hardness” by tapping the tab on the left side of the screen. 

When you’ve completed your initial re

8. Saving

Be sure to save to your work along the way. That way you can always go back to a previous version if you get a little too overzealous. I like to save the image to my device’s Photos, but the app offers a variety of saving locations.

9. Apply Smoothing

In the main menu, use the Smooth tool to refine your work. Start by tapping Face. Chances are you’ll like the effect as it smooths the skin tone. And again, you can always undo if you don’t.

Then tap to spot-smooth areas, particularly backdrops. Beware of over-smoothing – it won’t look natural.

10. Make Final Adjustments

After you complete the repair work, play with other options to improve the image quality. In the main menu tap Adjust. Play with Contrast first, then move on to testing WarmthSaturationShadows and Highlights.

When you’re done, save the finished image one last time to your device’s Photos

Take Mobile Photo Restoration a Step Further

When I work on improving and restoring my old photos, I often do so in more than one app. It’s rare to find an app that does everything you want, and each has it’s special strengths. Adobe has several other excellent apps, and PhotoShop Mix is one I use quite often after I complete my initial restoration in Adobe PhotoShop Fix. 

Import the restored image into the free Adobe Photoshop Mix appHere you’ll find even more tools for refining the image. Tap Adjust in the main menu. Experiment with these tools because you can always Undo!:

  • Auto Fix – I avoid this one!
  • Temperature
  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Clarity – definitely give this a whirl
  • Saturation

I was delighted how quickly I was able to significantly improve the photo. Sam and his mom’s faces just radiate happiness.

I sent it off and heard back from him almost immediately:

“I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see this extraordinary repair and restoration work you accomplished on that tiny Polaroid Land Picture of my mother and myself! This picture was taken at the exact same time I began to help my mother with her genealogical work.”

He then shared the story about that first research project with her. The two of them wanted to identify the relative who had rendered some beautiful old paintings hanging in his grandparents’ house. The trail led mother and teenage son to London, Ontario, Canada. As a budding genealogist, Sam was certainly thinking ahead!

“I convinced my mother to let me take along a tape recorder, as I was very interested in sound recordings, and so we recorded my mother’s interviews with family members still in London and related to the same…family.”

Sam and his mother identified the artistic ancestor who did those paintings: John Ashton. Their research culminated in a “delightful little family history, called The Descendants of John Ashton, of London, Ontario, Canada, and his Son-in-Law, John Ames Arnold, of Greencastle, Indiana (Lyons, Ks.: Lyons Publishing Co., 1964) compiled by my mother, Florence Jones Gill.”

Sam proudly mentions that her book was favorably reviewed. A quick check of Google Books reveals that there was indeed quite a bit of “buzz” when she published her book! It was referenced in several genealogical publications. Here are the search results in Google Books:

google books search results

Sam wrapped up his reply with a little life lesson that he learned from his mom, that we can all take to heart.

“You might get a kick out of this,” Sam wrote, “but the only mistake that my mother ever found after the book was published, was the date of her marriage to my father! It should have been 1935, not 1934. One never to take herself TOO seriously, she had quite a laugh over that one.

It was fun helping my mother. Also, as I look back over my life, I must say that I have never known a more “can-do” person than my mother. If something came up that needed attention–no matter what it was–my mother’s usual response was , “WELL, WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT !!!”

So my dear Gems, next time we see our family’s history hidden behind damage in an old photo, let us hear Mrs. Gill’s words in our ears “WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!!!”

Read More About Working with Old Photos & Apps:

My book Mobile Genealogy is chock full of more innovative ideas for using your smartphone and tablet for family history. It’s available here in the Genealogy Gems store

About the AuthorAbout the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapersand the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineHere’s this week’s collection of new genealogy records online for New Spain, England, Ireland, the U.S. and the Kindgom of Hawaii.

FEATURED COLLECTION: NEW SPAIN/NEW MEXICO. Ancestry.com has posted a new collection of land records for what is now New Mexico when it was part of Spain. These records span 1692-1846, come from the Twitchell compilation of materials from New Mexico’s Spanish Archives, and are only searchable by keyword and date. See the collection description for more details.

ENGLAND – BURIALS. Over half a million records have been added to Findmypast’s collection of Westminster burials. These include names, birthdates, , death and burial dates and where they were buried.

ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND. About 13.5 million new newspaper articles have been added to Findmypast’s British Newspapers collection. New titles cover Cheshire, Essex, Kent, Lancashire, Wiltshire, Yorkshire and Scotland.

ENGLAND – LONDON – MISC. A new online collection at Findmypast.com “details the lives of ordinary and common Londoners” from 1680-1817. The 1.5 million records include criminal registers, apprentice records, coroner inquests, workhouse minutes, clerks’ papers and more.

ENGLAND – SURREY. A new Ancestry.com collection of water rate books for Surrey, England is now available online. According to the collection description, “Rates were collected in each parish for support of the sick and poor, maintenance of roads and church, and other parish expenses.” You can expect to find names along with street names and dates.

GERMANY. Ancestry.com has posted two new databases of Lutheran baptisms, marriages and burials for Hesse, Germany. Over 2.5 million records are in one database for 1661-1875 and another 100,000 or so appear in an overlapping database for 1730-1875.

IRELAND. A collection of Dublin Metropolitan Police prisoner’s books are now online at the University College Dublin website. According to the collection abstract, “The Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) Prisoners Books for 1905-1908 and 1911-1918 are amongst the most valuable new documents to come to light on the revolutionary decade. They include important information on social and political life in the capital during the last years of the Union, from the period of widespread anticipation of Home Rule, to the advent of the 1913 Lockout, the outbreak of the First World War, the Easter Rising and its aftermath, including the conscription crisis of 1918. They will also be invaluable to those interested in criminology, genealogy, and family history.”

U.S. – CENSUS. Ancestry.com has updated its 1920 U.S. Census collection. The nature of the updates aren’t described. (About a year ago we mentioned FamilySearch’s re-indexing of parts of the 1910 census in this blog post.)

U.S. – HAWAII. Ancestry.com has posted a new collection of Hawaiian passport records for 1849-1950 and 1874-1900.  These records were under the jurisdiction of the former Kingdom of Hawaii.

sign up newsletterEvery week we post new genealogy records online! Are you getting our free weekly e-newsletter so you can stay up to date? When you subscribe you’ll receive a free e-book on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google search strategies for genealogists. Enter your email address on this page.

 

 

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Our review of new genealogy records online this week includes the 1939 Register for England and Wales; church records for Illinois and Kyiv, Ukraine; New York naturalizations and Mexican vital and church records. Which of these may name your family members?  

ENGLAND AND WALES POPULATION REGISTER. The 1939 Register is now online at Findmypast, as we blogged about earlier this week. Click here to learn more about this crucial record set for those researching English and Welsh families.

FLASH SALE! Receive a 10% discount off 300 credits on Findmypast now through Friday 13thNovember 2015 at 11.59pm GMT using the code 1939REG10. Click the graphic below to have the discount automatically set up for you.

(When you use our links and graphics you are helping to support the free Genealogy Gems Podcast – thank you!!)

 

ILLINOIS CHURCH RECORDS. Ancestry has updated its collection of United Methodist Church records for 87 counties in central and southern Illinois. The collection now spans 1824-2009, bridging record gaps like the lack of government vital records in the past and privacy restrictions for more recent records. Click here to search for baptisms, marriages, deaths, family buy worm medication for cats migrations and more. These records are for congregations that are no longer in existence.

MEXICO. For October, Ancestry announced the addition of “more than 250 million Mexican birth, marriage, death, and church records—plus U.S. census, border crossing, and naturalization records.” click here to search Mexican records on Ancestry–through Monday, October 9, access to these collections is free.

NEW YORK NATURALIZATIONS. Ancestry’s collection of naturalization records for New York (1882-1944) have been updated. click here to search for immigrant ancestors who may have naturalized in New York, which welcomed millions of immigrants who may have done this paperwork during that time.

UKRAINE CHURCH RECORDS. You can new browse a new collection of Orthodox church records for the Diocese of Kyiv, Ukraine (1734-1920) on FamilySearch. These include duplicate records of baptisms/births, marriages, and burials/deaths created by church officials for civil authorities. Click here to view these records for free (sign-in may be required).

Please help spread the great news! Thank you for sharing these new genealogy records online with your genealogy societies, fellow researchers and family.

Simply copy and paste the URL for this page:

  • into an email
  • on your Facebook page
  • on your society Facebook page
  • on Pinterest

 

 

 

Attend One of Lisa’s Upcoming Seminars in Texas

Attend Lisa’s upcoming seminars and Google your way to genius! Both the North Texas Genealogical Association and the Genealogy Friends of Plano host Lisa this month. She is presenting some fantastic, genealogy-packed lectures you won’t want to miss.

Lisa's Upcoming Lectures in Texas

Lisa’s Upcoming Seminar in Wichita Falls

The North Texas Genealogical Association is going big with their upcoming seminar on Saturday, September 10, 2016. Our own Google Guru, Lisa, is presenting the lectures for their fall workshop being held at the First United Methodist Church at 909 10th St. in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Lecture titles include:

  • “Google Tools and Procedures”
  • “Get the Scoop: Newspapers”
  • “Inner Private Eye: 9 Strategies”
  • “Google Earth for Genealogy”

The doors open at 9 am and the seminar will conclude at 3:30 pm. A light lunch will be included with the price of registration. Early registration has been extended through TODAY September 5th and the cost is $45.00. Registration after September 5th, and at the door, will be $55.00. You can download the registration form here.

Lisa’s Upcoming Seminar in Plano

The Genealogy Friends of Plano Libraries, Inc. are also hosting a seminar this month with Lisa! Join attendees at the First Presbyterian Church Plano on 1500 Jupiter Rd. in Plano, Texas. This genealogy smorgasbord of lectures will be held on Saturday, September 17th.

Lecture titles include:

  • “Ultimate Google Search Strategies”
  • “How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers”
  • “Time Travel with Google Earth”
  • “How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case”

Early registration before September 12th is $45 for members or $50 for non-members. If you miss the early registration deadline, you can still attend! Price of admission after September 12th and at the door will be $50.00 for both members and non-members.

For a schedule of the day and a registration form, click here. The Genealogy Friends of Plano Libraries ask that you bring your own lunch, but they will provide lemonade, coffee, and tea.

Keep Up with All of Lisa’s Upcoming Lectures

BYU Family History conference 2015

Photo Credit: Ancestry Insider

She’s a jet setter folks! If you are like me, you want to stay up-to-date on where Lisa will be speaking and when you are lucky enough to have her in your area. See her entire seminar schedule here. Why not share the schedule with your genealogy buddies and meet for a fun weekend trip. Nothing beats a little genealogy with friends!

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