Digital Focus: Fixing torn, damaged photos

Previously, we've talked about scanning your old slides, negatives, and photos. There's more to it than just putting the images on a scanner; you should also think about scanning resolution and correcting colours that have faded with age. If you missed those columns, read "Scanning Old Photos" and "Restoring Faded Photos" to catch up.

For now, let's put the finishing touches on our scanning adventure by repairing some of the damage that has inevitably marred those old prints.

Size up the damage

Our first step is to catalogue the problems that we need to correct. Suppose we recently scanned this photo of a cute kid named Dave.


The picture has every conceivable problem. The most obvious one is the torn lower-right corner. In the upper third on the right, in line with the fence, is a feather-shaped aberration that's actually a half-inch long tear (the white is the back side of the photo paper peeking through). Finally, there's a long vertical purple stripe on the left side of the image. Luckily, we can fix all three problems.

Fill in torn edges

In this particular photo, the torn corner is the easiest problem for us to fix, since it happened in a region that's fairly uniform in colour and texture.

Get started by loading the picture into your favourite image editor and selecting the Clone tool. (I'll use Corel Paint Shop Pro)

In Paint Shop Pro, the Clone tool lives in the eighth cubby from the top of the toolbar on the left side of the screen; it looks like two people with an arrow. Click on the icon, then select a nearby region as the painting source. To do that, position the brush over some gravel and right-click. Now just click to paint over the white, torn-away region with a few quick dabs.

If your results are less realistic than mine, select a slightly different source area and then dab a few more times to eliminate any visible patterns in your painting.


Eliminate the tear

Tears, since they're usually fairly short and thin, are also fairly simple to eliminate.

There are all kinds of fixes for a small tear like the one in this photo. You could use the Clone tool, the Scratch Remover, or a "healing" tool if your image editor has one.

Let's use a feature that's new in Paint Shop Pro X, the Object Remover. You can find this tool in the same cubby as the Clone tool. To use it, start by outlining the scratch. The Object Remover automatically creates a selection. When you've fully enclosed the white portion, click the Source Mode button in the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen. (If you don't see Tool Options, turn it on by choosing View-Palettes-Tool Options).

When you switch to Source Mode, a selection frame appears in your picture. Reposition and resize it so it covers a nearby section of fencing. Then click Apply in Tool Options. The fence should be repaired.


Eliminate the vertical stripe

The vertical stripe is an eyesore. Unfortunately, since it runs through a lot of fine detail in the photo, it will be tricky to fix.

I believe in trying the easiest solution first and keeping the Undo button handy in case it doesn't work out; so let's try the Scratch Remover. Grab it from the same cubby as the Clone tool. This trowel-shaped tool will try to fill in a narrow stripe of the photo.

Zoom in for a better view of the problem area (try View-Zoom-Zoom In By 5 Steps), and then click directly on the stripe. Drag the tool to another position on the stripe and click. If you got good results, you're done. If not, you might want to undo your fix and experiment with the width of the tool, which you can customise in the Tool Options palette. More than likely, though, you'll get a purplish blur instead of the purple line.


Eliminating this line will require a combination of techniques: you might want to start with the Scratch Remover or Object Remover, then add some good old-fashioned Clone tool work through the fence, where you need to be the most careful. Here is what I ended up with after using both the Clone tool and the Object Remover on different parts of the purple line.


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