How to Restore a Photo

Thanks to photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, it's never been easier to repair vintage family photos marred by dust, mold, wrinkles and discoloration. And though it does take some time to get to know the program, the rewards are endless, according to Scott Lizama, photography and graphic design instructor at Phoenix College. "One needs to have a basic understanding of digital imaging, and lots of patience," he says.

Here are six basic photo-restoration steps using Adobe Photoshop CS2 for Windows and Macintosh:

Scan using a flatbed scanner: The higher the scan resolution, the more detail will be imported. If you plan on printing the photograph at a large size such as 11" x 14", scan at a higher dpi (dots per inch), in the 1,800 to 2,400 range.

Correct image size and resolution: Remember that screen size (measured in pixels) doesn't equal print size (measured in inches). Both settings can be found under the Image menu, then Image Size. If you only plan to post the photograph on the Web, set the resolution (under document size) to 72 dpi. For printing purposes, work at a minimum of 300 dpi.

Duplicate file and original layer: In case you make a mistake along the way, you will always have the original file to reference. The duplicate image command is under the Image menu, and the duplicate layer command is located by visiting the Layer menu.

Adjust tonal values: Stick with pixel-preserving, "non-linear" tonal adjustments such as levels (isolates the image's highlight and shadow information) and curves (a more powerful and detailed version of levels). These can be found under the Image menu, then Adjustments. Avoid linear adjustments such as brightness/contrast, auto color, and auto contrast, as these functions actually degrade image detail.

Make repairs: The cloning stamp — which copies a desired portion of the image and reapplies the pattern to undesirable spots — will be a lifesaver. Other helpful devices such as the Healing Brush, where sampled textures are blended with selected areas, will make the editing process more seamless.

Save final format: For Web presentation, .jpg and .gif are the most common, space-saving options. For commercial print, .tif and the raw Photoshop (.psd) files are the way to go.

Utilize the Photoshop Help menu any time you get stuck. For a further explanation on these methods, consult the Photoshop CS2 for Windows & Macintosh Visual QuickStart Guide ($26.99). And finally, "Don't forget command Z [the undo function], and save often," laughs Lizama.

Mesa Community College, 1833 West Southern Avenue in Mesa, offers introductory and advanced Adobe Photoshop courses, a full range of graphic design classes, and traditional black-and-white darkroom access. Visit for schedule and registration information.

JourneyEd, the online software company, offers half-priced student discounts for software, including Adobe Creative Suite and Adobe Studio 8. All you need is a proof of enrollment form. See

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jansen
Contact: Steve Jansen