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.

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England Emigrants and More: New Genealogy Records Online

England emigrants to its U.S. colonies appear in new genealogy records online this week. Also: the 1891 New South Wales census; Czech church, land and school records; English parish records; and U.S. collections from the Freedmen’s Bureau, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and New England towns and cities.

dig these new record collections

Australia – New South Wales census

Findmypast.com has published over 200,000 records from the 1891 New South Wales census. The census collectors’ books are the source, as these are the only surviving documents. “While they provide less detail than a full census would, they can still be a useful aid to historians and genealogists alike in placing people at a specific moment in time,” states the collection description. “Each result will provide you with a transcript and image of the original collector’s books from the 1891 census. Original images may provide you with additional details, such as the number of individuals living in the same household or the number of residents who were Aboriginal or Chinese.”

Czechoslovakia – Church, Land and School

FamilySearch.org has added to its collection of Czech Republic Church Records spanning more than 400 years (1552-1963). You’ll find “images and some indexes of baptisms/births, marriages, and deaths that occurred in the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Reformed Church parishes, as well as entries in those registers for Jews.” These are taken from parish registers and synagogue records now in regional archives. Though not fully indexed, the browse-only records number over 4 million! (Click here to learn how to use browse-only collections on FamilySearch.org; remember you can use the FamilySearch wiki for help in translating records in another language.)

FamilySearch has also added more than 850,000 browsable images to its existing collection of Czech Republic Land Records 1450-1889 and more than a million browsable images to the existing collection Czech Republic School Registers 1799-1953.

England Emigrants

Remember recently when we blogged about emigrant records, or those created about people leaving a country? Ancestry.com recently posted a new database called Emigrants in Bondage, which it says is “the most important list of ships’ passengers to be published in years.” Indexed are names of “more than 50,000 English men, women, and children… sentenced to be deported to the American colonies for crimes ranging from the theft of a handkerchief to bigamy or highway robbery.” The collection dates cover 1614 to 1775, after which time the British empire was not permitted to ship its “undesirables” to U.S. shores.

England – Parish records – Staffordshire and Sussex

Findmypast has added to its collections of church vital records for Staffordshire, England. Its browsable parish registers, 1538-1900 now includes 300,000 full-color page-by-page images. Separate databases of baptisms, wedding banns, marriages and burials have also been updated.

Also, more than 1.2 million indexed records have been added to FamilySearch’s collection of England, Sussex, Parish Records, dating 1538-1910.  Sussex parish registers contain baptisms, marriages/banns, and burials. Date ranges of available records vary by locality; you will want to use the coverage table at the FamilySearch wiki to see what’s available.

U.S. – Freedmen’s Bureau Records

Now that the Freedmen’s Bureau collections have been fully indexed, FamilySearch is dumping them onto its website in batches. This week, they added these new databases:

U.S. – Military

FamilySearch.org has added just over 4 million indexed records to its database of United States Muster Rolls of the Marine Corps (1798-1937). The collection is described as an “index and images of muster rolls of the United States Marine Corps located at the National Archives. The records are arranged chronologically by month, then by post, station or ship.”

This week, the Fold3.com blog reminds us of its Coast Guard collections, in honor of the Coast Guard’s 226th birthday. Hundreds of thousands of search results on the site relate to Coast Guard history, from disapproved Navy survivors pension files to photos dating to the Civil War; accounts of shipwrecks or accidents, WWII war diaries for several units, images of insignia and Navy cruise books.

U.S. – New England

FamilySearch has posted a new index of New Hampshire Vital and Town Records Index for the years 1656-1938. It contains shy of half a million records of births, marriages and deaths. Entries were sourced from multiple archives in New Hampshire; the citation for each record is included in the index entry at the bottom of the record screen.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has announced improvements to its databases for three New England cities, which now include more searchable fields and images. “Hartford, CT: General Index of Land Records of the Town of Hartford, 1639-1839, is now searchable by grantee and grantor name, and results provide the record type and volume and page of the record (available on microfilm at the Connecticut State Library). Boston, MA: Births, 1800-1849, and Dover, NH: Vital Records, 1649-1892, are now searchable by first name, last name, record type, family member names, date, and location.”

 

 

 

 

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.

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