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.

Listen to the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast on Android Devices

FOR ANDROID USERS: How to Get the Premium Feed on Your Android Mobile Device

Recommended app: Podcast Addict for Android, available in the Google Play Store.

Follow these steps to set up the Premium Podcast using the Podcast Addict app for Android. Examples shown below are on a tablet, so keep in mind that it may look slightly different on your device.

1. Download the Podcast Addict App

      Podcast Addict app

Google Play Store

On your device, go to the Google Play Store and download the Podcast Addict app.
(*Note: If you’ve never used the Google Play store you may be required to set up an account, including payment information. This is unrelated to Genealogy Gems, but necessary in order to download apps from the Google Play Store.)

Recommended app: Podcast Addict for Android, available in the Google Play Store.

Follow these steps to set up the Premium Podcast using the Podcast Addict app for Android.
NOTE: Examples shown below are on a tablet, so keep in mind that it may look slightly different on your device.

2. Add the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Feed

Tap the + icon to add a feed

Tap “RSS Feed, YouTube/Twitch Channel, Soundcloud URL”

In the “RSS feed URL” field, copy and paste this address to ensure it is exactly correct with no extra spaces at the end (the feed address is case sensitive):
https://lisalouisecooke.com/Premium_Feed/feed.xml

  • Check the box for “Authentication (Premium Podcast)”
  • Type in your Genealogy Gems Premium Membership username and password. You MUST use your membership username, NOT your email address.
  • Tap “Add”

Your Podcast home screen will now have the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.

Tap the podcast icon.  It may appear yellow like this or it may be our logo) to reveal all episodes, starting with the most recent episode at the top of the list.

3. Downloading Episodes

You can download episodes so that you can listen offline, without an internet connection or using your device’s cellular data. Download an episode by tapping the down arrow icon on the right:

Once the episode is downloaded, a play button will appear that you can click to listen. A small download icon will appear indicating that this episode is downloaded to your device:

3. Listening to Episodes & Viewing Show Notes

When you open the app, tap the Genealogy Gems Premium podcast to access episodes:

You can go straight to the episodes you’ve already downloaded through the app’s menu. Tap the three lines icon:

Then tap Downloaded episodes:

On this screen are only the episodes you have downloaded for offline listening. To return to all episodes just tap the 3 line icon in the upper left corner.

4. Deleting Downloaded Episodes

After you have listened to a downloaded episode, you can delete it to free up the space on your device. (Don’t worry, all of the episodes are still available through the main podcast feed in Podcast Addict.) To delete an episode in the Downloaded Episodes area, tap the 3 dots icon on the episode you want to delete:

(Note: If you want to delete all the episodes that you’ve already played, click the 3 dots icon at the very top of the right-hand corner, and then tap “Delete Played Episodes”)

On the page for that downloaded episode tap the trash can icon to delete it from your device:

Need More Help?

If you’re experiencing error messages or other technical difficulties, please visit our Premium eLearning FAQ page and head to the Troubleshooting section towards the bottom. You’ll find answers to the most common causes of problems and solutions and tips to fix them.

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

Each Friday we share a list of selected new genealogy records online. Watch for records in which your ancestors might appear–and get inspired by the kinds of records that may be out there waiting for you to discover. This week: Australian cemetery records, British military officer deaths, various U.S. passenger lists and North Carolina marriage records.

AUSTRALIAN CEMETERY RECORDS. Two million indexed records have been added to the free Australia, Queensland Cemetery Records, 1802–1990 dataset at FamilySearch.org. According to the site, “The records include an index which combines several other indexes, cemetery transcriptions, burial and other records from cemeteries in Queensland….Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women. They may also give clues to finding more information. In Australia, the first cemetery is reported to have been in Sydney in 1788.”

BRITISH MILITARY OFFICER DEATHS. FindMyPast’s new dataset, Royal Artillery Officer Deaths 1850-2011, lists the details of over 17,000 commissioned officers who were killed or died during the campaigns in Kosovo, Bosnia, Borneo and Iraq as well as the First and Second World Wars. It is estimated that since the regiment’s formation in May 1716, over 2.5 million men and women have served with the regiment. Each record includes a transcript of details found in the original records.

US PASSENGER LISTS. Browsable images were added to several existing US immigration records. Click here (and then scroll down) to view a table that has links directly to these datasets:

  • For San Diego, CA:Airplane Passenger and Crew Lists, 1929–1954 and an apparently segregated Chinese Passenger and Crew Lists, 1905–1923;
  • San Francisco, CA Passenger Lists, 1893–1953;
  • Key West, FL Passenger Lists, 1898-1945;
  • Minnesota Passenger Lists, 1910-1923;
  • New York City, NY Passenger and Crew Lists Soundex (meaning an index based on how a name sounds), 1887-1921; (this is actually a new image collection)
  • North Dakota Manifests of Immigrant Arrivals, 1910-1952 (this is also new).

NORTH CAROLINA (US) COUNTY MARRIAGES, 1741-2011. This new dataset on Ancestry “includes images of marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers from 87 different counties.” According to an Ancestry blog post, some marriages have multiple records in this collection, like a bond and an indexed marriage record. This record set may be particularly useful for those tracing African-American marriages, as they “reference the joining of couples living as man and wife dating back to 1820, and possibly earlier…. Sometimes they also include the names of their former owners.” There’s a free, similar-looking dataset at FamilySearch, but the dates aren’t as extensive (it covers 1762-1979).

Tip: When searching within record sets like these, read the record collection description! Sometimes you are just seeing a partial collection that is being updated on an ongoing basis. Some years or locales may be missing from an otherwise complete record set.

When you have questions that aren’t answered in the record collection description online, Google them! Use keywords like the type of record (“marriage records”) and the missing locale (“Burdett County”) to see whether other sites can lead you to these records or confirm that they don’t exist. Learn more about advanced Google searching for genealogy in the fully-updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Mobile Device

http://www.mindanews.com/buy-topamax/ mobile device” width=”263″ height=”263″ />Ever feel like your tablet or smart phone is smarter than you? Here are 3 quick tips for getting the most out of your mobile device.

If you’ve got a mobile device–a smart phone, tablet or iPad–but aren’t really sure how to use it, you’re not alone. This common problem makes me think of this video below of how one father uses his iPad. Check out the expression on his daughter’s face!

Don’t resort to using your mobile device as a cutting board! There are so many things you can do with it in everyday life, for work or hobbies–and especially for genealogy. I’ll teach you more step-by-step mobile genealogy in the coming months. But let’s get started with these 3 quick tips for getting the most out of your mobile device:

1. Know your mobile device. In the case of an iPad, for example, which generation do you have (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, Air, Pro etc.)? Which operating system does it use? How much storage space is on the device itself and how much cloud-based storage space do you have? (How much is available right now?) Your ability to answer these questions will help you to know which apps you can use and will help you best manage your device’s memory.

Don’t be afraid to browse your device to find these answers. If you can’t find the answers, (and there’s no 15 year old handy to help you), just Google your question. Below are two sample Google searches I ran: click to read the top result for each! (You can model your specific Google search phrase after the examples below.)

2. Keep your device updated to its current operating system.

Sometimes when you’re having trouble using your mobile device, it’s because its operating system is out-of-date. (On Apple products, you’ll see that referred to as iOS.) Some people consider it annoying to have to frequently update their operating systems, but the world of mobile technology changes so quickly that you really do need the most current system to be glitch-free and good-to-go.

How to find the version of your operating system:

1. Tap Settings
2. Tap General (iOS) or About Device (Android)
3. Tap Software Update
4. You will either see that your operating system software is up to date (and what version it currently is), or you will be notified it is out of date and prompted to update it.

An up-to-date operating system helps ensure you are getting the most out of your mobile device.

3. Get to know your Settings.

Your Settings icon probably looks like a gear. Open it. Browse the different areas so you’ll become familiar with it. Some features you’ll want to use will require that you activate them in the Settings. Also, sometimes if your device is supposed to support a feature but it doesn’t work, that may be an indication that you need to update something in your Settings. It’s not difficult to do!

mobile genealogy bookIn the coming months, I’ll teach you LOTS more about using your mobile device for genealogy (and everything else). Just enter your email in the “Sign Up for the Free Email Newsletter” box on any page on my website to make sure you’ll receive these helpful articles. (You’ll also receive a free gift just for signing up!)

Ready to make ensure that you’re getting the most out of your mobile device for genealogy?
My brand-new book Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research is on SALE for those who pre-order through January 31, 2016.

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