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Old 08.05.2015, 10:30
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How to improve the quality of old photographs?

Since I have a little time on my hands today I am looking through some old photos of my ancestors and some of them are in a really bad condition, so sometimes it is difficult to figure out who is in the picture. Is there a good program/software/hardware to improve the quality of old photos?

Any advice appreciated.
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:24
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

I presume you are talking about prints (i.e. photos on paper?)

There are some pieces of software that can be used to restore old photos, but it all depends on how bad the picture is in the first place. Have a look at this example http://akvis.com/en/retoucher/index.php (hover over the image). You'll notice the result is good, but that is in the case where there are no creases over the child's face....

That means that in the end the best tool for this is Photoshop and a skilled operator. Alternatively there are many online service providers that do this for you for a fee (although I can't recommend one). You scan the photos yourself and send them the digitized versions for retouching.
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:30
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

Depends how much you're willing to spend. I believe there are people who do restorations professionally.


If you're going to try your own hand, the first step is getting a decent scan. It's amazing what you can do with even a cheap-ish scanner if you use it optimally rather than just leave it on the default settings. Of course a good scanner is preferable in all cases. Start off by making sure the glass is properly clean, look at the graduation curves and make sure you are using the fully dynamics. There is a company called silver lining (I think?) who make software that support you with this.
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:30
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Since I have a little time on my hands today I am looking through some old photos of my ancestors and some of them are in a really bad condition, so sometimes it is difficult to figure out who is in the picture. Is there a good program/software/hardware to improve the quality of old photos?

Any advice appreciated.
If the photos were badly preserved then that's too bad... all you can do is scan them to PC and try and tweak the contrast and colour etc to make them more readable.
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:52
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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I presume you are talking about prints (i.e. photos on paper?)
Yes, black and white original photos from the 20s and 30s.

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If the photos were badly preserved then that's too bad... all you can do is scan them to PC and try and tweak the contrast and colour etc to make them more readable.
It is more that some of the pictures are very small and some were not properly taken, i. e. blurry, over- or underexposed.
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:53
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Yes, black and white original photos from the 20s and 30s.



It is more that some of the pictures are very small and some were not properly taken, i. e. blurry, over- or underexposed.
Well... what do you expect to about photos that weren't taken properly in the first place? Go back and retake them?
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:56
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Since I have a little time on my hands today I am looking through some old photos of my ancestors and some of them are in a really bad condition, so sometimes it is difficult to figure out who is in the picture. Is there a good program/software/hardware to improve the quality of old photos?

Any advice appreciated.
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Yes, black and white original photos from the 20s and 30s.



It is more that some of the pictures are very small and some were not properly taken, i. e. blurry, over- or underexposed.
If faces are not clear, or if the photo is out of focus or badly over exposed there is very little you can do to improve that. As Amogles and Ricdog say, get the best scan you can and then try to tweak the contrast. I always find converting the scans of B/W photos to greyscale gives much better results.
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Old 08.05.2015, 11:59
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Well... what do you expect to about photos that weren't taken properly in the first place? Go back and retake them?
Software exists to fix blurry pictures, I found something on google about 5 years ago when I had such a request some 5 years ago.
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Old 08.05.2015, 12:06
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

I a photographer and retoucher and have worked on photos 100+ years old. The first step is to have the highest resolution scan you can get done. If you have old negatives you can scan them as well.

If the original was blurry you can fiddle with it but you can not make it clear like it would have been if taken properly. Usually with this type of work clients are hoping to have the images preserved and improved, vs miracles (although sometimes miracles do happen)
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Old 08.05.2015, 12:26
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Software exists to fix blurry pictures, I found something on google about 5 years ago when I had such a request some 5 years ago.
I downloaded 2 of these programs and tried it on digital pictures, Aviary and Snapseed. Of course it did not make the photos perfect, however, it improved the blurred ones a little. What I really liked was thatI could change one particular photo which was a little too dark by changing brightness and contrast to almost perfect.

So your advice would be scan them as jpeg and then give it a try?
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Old 08.05.2015, 12:38
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

As others have said, if by any miracle the negatives have survived, that may be the way to go.


A couple of years back I invested in a Nikon negative scanner. It was a beast of a machine and cost a 4-figure sum but the results are amazing. Many old pictures that I thought were blurred or under or over exposed appeared not to be that at all but it was just the shop that messed them up. Also pictures that I thought were messed up because somebody's head was cropped or something like that turned out to be OK. Again, the negative was fine but the shop just got the wrong cropping.


The scanner also has clever tricks to detect things like scratches and stains and can automatically compensate.


Many older prints are what they called contact prints. That means the picture wasn't enlarged but was a direct image of the negative. This is actually better than enlarging them as there weren't any optics in between that could cause loss of quality. Typical negative formats of those days would have been 6x6 cm (square) or sometimes more esoteric things like 6x8. If your prints are that format, you may be in luck. Get the best quality scans on the best scanner you have or can borrow and even before you start fiddling around with contrasts and curves you may be quite surprised that those pictures are actually better than you think.
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Old 08.05.2015, 12:53
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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As others have said, if by any miracle the negatives have survived, that may be the way to go.


Many older prints are what they called contact prints. That means the picture wasn't enlarged but was a direct image of the negative. This is actually better than enlarging them as there weren't any optics in between that could cause loss of quality. Typical negative formats of those days would have been 6x6 cm (square) or sometimes more esoteric things like 6x8. If your prints are that format, you may be in luck. Get the best quality scans on the best scanner you have or can borrow and even before you start fiddling around with contrasts and curves you may be quite surprised that those pictures are actually better than you think.
Unfortunately, there are no negatives, but definitely some are contact prints.
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Old 08.05.2015, 12:58
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Software exists to fix blurry pictures, I found something on google about 5 years ago when I had such a request some 5 years ago.
You cannot make a very blurry or indistinguishable hard copy of a photo sharp... it would just make the outlines more pronounced, but the important details would still not be there.
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Old 08.05.2015, 13:21
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

GIMP is a free and worthwhile alternative to Photoshop. Your best-option for general deblurring that's available in typical photo editing software would be to use an Unsharp Mask. It will not effect miracles, but it will work better on B&W than on colour.

GIMP can also do despeckling/destreaking/etc.
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Old 08.05.2015, 13:24
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

If you have time to burn...

https://www.youtube.com/results?sear...to+restoration
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Old 08.05.2015, 13:26
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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GIMP is a free and worthwhile alternative to Photoshop. Your best-option for general deblurring that's available in typical photo editing software would be to use an Unsharp Mask. It will not effect miracles, but it will work better on B&W than on colour.

GIMP can also do despeckling/destreaking/etc.
Which GIMP mask do you recommend?
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Old 08.05.2015, 13:28
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

Wow, thanks a lot. I am afraid there is no way around investing money in photoshop, for the freebies do not seem to do the job properly.
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Old 08.05.2015, 13:39
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Wow, thanks a lot. I am afraid there is no way around investing money in photoshop, for the freebies do not seem to do the job properly.

why not outsource to someone?
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Old 08.05.2015, 13:59
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

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Which GIMP mask do you recommend?
Filters->Enhance->Unsharp Mask

Typically using a radius of 6-8 I think? Generally just play with the preview window Some discussion here that recommends upsampling the image before applying an unsharp filter (generally a good idea, but I would think 200 % should be sufficient):

http://infofreund.de/how-do-you-unblur-a-picture/

When you up-sample the image, try to use a Lanczos kernel if it's available. You can downsample it again later.

A Lucy-Richardson deconvolution (guided if possible, but more typically blind) would be better but I don't think such things have been implemented in anything short of Matlab. Technically it might be possible to call such a thing from GIMP because it's written in Python but I don't know and I'm not offering to find out.

edit: also, if you de-noise before unsharp masking you'll probably have better results. In general any image sharpening will enhance noise speckle.
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Old 08.05.2015, 14:11
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Re: How to improve the quality of old photographs?

GIMP is almost but not quite entirely unlike PhotoShop, or to put it another way it is like alcohol free Feldschlösschen vs. one of Grumpy's craft beers.
There are a lot of things you can do to enhance old pictures but it is always a case of diminishing returns and unless you can spend oodles of time to reconstruct the photo completely from scratch you are not going to have a lot of luck.
Can you scan an example perhaps?
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