Restoring Memories

If you know me, you know I am always the one to say yes to new opportunities and tasks before I even know what it is. That is kind of how I became a graphic designer. When I was applying to colleges, someone suggested becoming a graphic designer since I had a knack for art. I thought "Sure. Art position that pays? Sounds like a great plan." And it was, but sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.

Over the the holidays my mother-in-law showed me this beautiful photo of her and my husband and told me she was going to have it restored.  She had been carrying it around with her for years and you could tell. Without thinking I said "I'll do it!" 


I thought "I know how to manipulate photos in photoshop. How hard could it be?"

If you've ever restored photos you know this is a much larger beast. Had I ever restored a photo in this condition before? Nope. Did I still take on the challenge? You bet I did!

Before this little self appointed project my photo manipulation skills consisted of putting basketball players in new uniforms, some "spot the difference" kids games, and removing chocolate from my little cousin's face.  There were a few other things here and there but nothing quite this hard.


Over the next few WEEKS I watched tutorial after tutorial on restoring photos and now the photo is finally done! Yet I ran into a lot of problems that tutorials couldn't help me with. Little things like dirt spots on the face, a small juice stain, tiny cracks and shadows that aren't really shadows. I think the most troublesome task has been making the photo look like it was never photoshopped.

As you can see, I sort of lose that realness in the last step. So I'm taking a couple steps back to recapture that. Though I dread taking steps back I can't help but think how gratifying this is.

I like to think that I'm not just restoring a photo but also a memory. That alone makes this task worthwhile. 

Tips and Tricks

I'm no expert on this subject but I hope some of the things I learned will come in handy for you.

1. Start Small

While retouching don't tackle the biggest crack on the photo just yet. You want to handle the small cracks first. These little details can easily be taken care of with the healing tool and it will be much easier for you to resample colors from this area when it comes time to tackle the big stuff.


2. There Are Other Tools

Don't think that restoring is just using the stamp tool and healing brush. At some point you may have to paint an eyebrow on or overlay some color to cover a stain. I found out blurring some areas was a great solution for places with tiny cracks bunched together. You have an array of tools at your disposal so test them all out. You'll be surprised at how much more you can do.

3. Work In Layers

NEVER work off the original file. Always duplicate the layer that way you'll be able to go back if you've made a mistake. Take my photo for example. After I cleaned up the background I duplicated the layer and worked off of that. When I finished restoring the shirts I did the same thing. Since the photo now seems a little to airbrushed for me I can go back to the previous step without having to start from the original photo all over again.


4. This Is A Guessing Game

Unless you have other photos of your subjects you may have to at guess a few things. Take my husband's nose for example. Since the crack was so large I had to guess the shape. Since I don't have any other photos of my husband when he was a boy I had to go with what felt right. This is also where the stamp tool was useless and I had to paint in the nose.

5. Take Your Time

Remember, this takes practice and patience. For your first photo don't expect to be done in a couple hours. With experience you will be able to work faster. The quality is always better when you don't rush yourself. You are restoring a memory. This is something very important to someone.

Take risks: If you win you will be happy; if you lose you will be wise.
— Annonymous


Hi, I’m Alexis!

I am a versatile graphic designer with a passion for great design and visual aesthetic. My expertise revolve in the worlds of web design, print media, and brand identity. Learn more

Currently living in beautiful Austin, TX.