How to fix vintage photos

A pile of minimags
Erm, still haven't sorted out photos from my mum's party on Saturday, but I can share a photo of the surprise I made for her: little 'mini-mags', with a cover design similar to 1960s Jackie magazine. I got her to send me some old pictures but didn't say why, and then spent a bit of time fixing them up in the morning before work, then put them into a little magazine and paid Digiprint to print them out. It occurred to me that it might be useful to other people to know how I fixed the photos, as lots of us have old family pictures that have got a bit battered. So, here goes...

Scan your photos
Before you can tweak your photo, you need to digitise it. Scanning is ideal, but if you're careful you might be able to photograph an old photo instead – just make sure your camera is completely square-on to the camera or your image will be distorted.

Digital images are made up of dots. When you look at them on a screen like you are now, 72 dots per inch is fine. However, for printing 300 dots per inch is ideal. This means if you want to print your fixed image out at the same size as the original, you'll need to scan it at at least 300dpi. That's what I did on our office scanner, though that also offered the chance to scan at 600dpi, so I could have enlarged the original. You can always reduce the dpi later and get good results, whereas you can't enlarge a too-small digital image without suffering a lack of image quality.

Crop your image
Open your scan in your preferred software. I used Photoshop CS6, but as I'm showing you a fairly quick and easy way to fix photos you should have a version of the tools I use in whatever software you have. Your scan or photo will probably need tidying up at the edges, so use the Crop tool to trim to the edges of the photo. If the edges are particularly ragged, and there's nothing of interest there, you could crop in a tiny bit further and trim the worst of the damage off.

Clone in the damaged areas
Using the Clone stamp to repair a torn photo
Before, during, after.
Your software should have something like a Clone Stamp tool. This enables you to copy part of the image and paste it over another area. It's important to match the damaged area as closely as possible, so with the Clone tool active I alt-clicked on an undamaged area very close to the damage to sample it, then made sure my tool was small enough to cover only the damaged bit, and copied the undamaged area over the tear.

Cloning is very easy in simple areas, such as the flat black area here, but trickier when texture, shade and even colour come into play. You can't just sample one area and cover the damage with it, you'll need to keep resampling to ensure that your repair matches its surroundings.

It's also much more complicated to fill in large areas of damage as you may find yourself having to 'draw in' stuff. For most of the repairs to this photo of mum and her friend Doreen, I was simply covering over cracks, but the cardigan actually had an area missing. To repair this, I duplicated an undamaged part of the cardigan and followed the line of the knitting. I haven't got it perfect, but the result is less obtrusive than the rip. Had this level of damage been affecting a face, I'd have thought long and hard before doing much work on it, and I'd probably have left most of it alone. (We all saw what happened when that Spanish lady tried to fix a painting in her local church, yes? It's easy to go too far.) Sometimes, leaving something alone is the best solution.

Anyway, that's how easy it is to repair a damaged photo. You only really need a couple of tools and you can restore someone's memories, or allow a treasured image to be passed on to future generations.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! As keeper of all the family photos I really ought to try to do something with the older, more battered ones. I'm an idiot when it comes to technology (and er...everything else) so this will be helpful.

    Your Mum is going to love that magazine!

    1. It's surprisingly simple to do, and I really enjoy doing it and seeing the whole thing become nicer-looking. It's quite rewarding to do.

  2. Thank you for this, Mim. It will be really useful if I ever decided to do it. There is a lovely old photo of my Dad that I'd like to restore, enlarge and frame so I could try this!

    Bet your mum was delighted with the magazine!


    1. If you're enlarging it, you'll need to scan at more than 300dpi. But it will work. Because old photos *aren't* done in dots, you can blow them up more or less as large as you like, as long as you have a scanner that can capture them at a high enough resolution.

      Mum was dead chuffed with her magazine. :-)

  3. Thanks for this post, Mim. I'm forever fiddling around with old family photos, so any tips are welcome. That mini mag is such a great idea. Your mum must have been so chuffed! xxx

    1. She loved it. She's stashed at least three away. (I've kept the PDF, so I could print her more whenever she wanted them. Though I'd be doing that at home, not going to Digiprint for a single page.)

  4. I love your mini mags, Mim (oh, check out my alliteration!) I bet your mum was thrilled.
    A great post. I know about cloning from Picmonkey, it's brilliant for patching up bits of furniture the cats have ragged and for hiding dust! I've got about a million photos, I should do something with them. xxx

    1. Aha! I thought other software would have the same tools.

      The mini-mags included things like a 1960s quiz, more photos, quotes from 60s pop songs, and jokes. She loved it.

  5. Interesting. I have some old photos I need to try this on!
    The mini mag is such a great idea.

  6. They look fab! I knew they would. I bet your Mum was thrilled. See I should learn this stuff but when you are of a lazy bent and have a graphic designer at home.....

  7. Am bookmarking this!! Thank you x


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