Photography Information

Removing Spot Scratches in Your Treasured Photos - 5 Minute Digital Fix


Probably one of the most common problems you will be faced with in doing any type of digital photo restoration work will be to do with spot scratches on your old photos.

When we first look at those old black and white or early colour photos they often have small scratch marks and spots on them from being stored incorrectly.

These small spot scratches are easily perceived by your eye when you are looking at the photo, detracting from the overall subject matter.

Here is a very easy quick fix using Adobe Photoshop's History Brush tool.

Our example "before" image on our web-site has numerous small spot scratches on the old sepia toned photograph.

The basic removal method described here can quickly and effortlessly bring those scratched photos back to (almost) their former glory using the History Brush Tool found in Photoshop.

This basic technique works extremely well for those types of images that have spot scratches in areas of the photo that do not contain a lot of detail.

As you can see in our example image on the web-site, the spots tend to be primarily on the background of the photo, making it ideal for this correction method.

Step - 1

Having opened up the image in Photoshop we will first apply the Dust and Scratches filter by selecting Filter->Noise->Dust & Scratches ...

Set the Threshold to between 1 and 4 (I generally start with 1) and then increase the Radius until you see the spot scratches disappear.

Our example image on the web-site finally made the largest spot scratch on the left hand side of the photo disappear at a Threshold of 3 and Radius of 10.

All well and good but our image is now totally blurred!! Not really what we wanted to see is it?

This is where the History Brush tool comes into play.

Step - 2

Open up the History Palette by selecting Window->History if you cannot see the window already open.

We are going to create a "Snapshot" of the current state of the image in question by clicking on what looks like a little image of a camera at the bottom of the History Palette window (see the red arrow on the web-site image).

After clicking you will notice that the History Palette now shows an extra image icon called "Snapshot 1".

This is a snapshot of the image that includes the effect of apply the Dust & Scratches Filter in Step 1.

Now click on the little square box to the left of Snapshot 1.

You will see a little "brush" icon appear which is now telling us that the "Snapshot 1" image will be used as our "source" when we paint with the History Brush.

Remember ... this snapshot image actually has none of the spot scratches on it because we made them disappear by applying the Dust & Scratches filter in Step 1.

Step - 3

Make the original (un-touched) history snapshot active by clicking on it (in the case of our example image this is "Restore-Before-Image.jpg").

Select the History Brush from the main toolbar (this has the same icon as the little "brush" icon that appeared in the History Palette window).

We are now ready to "paint away" those spot scratches!!

Step - 4

I'm going to zoom in on the largest scratch on the left hand side of the photo to show you how we use the History Brush.

We selected the History Brush in Step 3.

Select an appropriate brush size and soft edges.

We now need to decide how to apply the brush to the scratches in question.

You will notice that the scratches in our example image are "lighter" than the surrounding image.

Step - 5

We need to paint "darker" pixels and as such we set the History Brush Mode: to "Darken" (Top Menu Bar option when you have the History Brush as the active tool).

This has the effect of "telling the History Brush" to only replace pixels on the original image with pixels from our snapshot if the snapshot pixel is darker.

Start to paint over the scratches and see what happens.

The scratches start to miraculously disappear as you paint over them.

They are being replaced with the underlying snapshot image pixels you created in Step 1.

The benefit of using this techniques is that you have complete control over which parts of the original image you "paint over" so as not to blur important details of the image had you just applied a Dust & Scratches filter to the whole image.

Now what if your scratches are darker than the surrounding image, I hear you ask?

Easy!! ... just use a History Brush Mode: of "Lighten" instead of "Darken".

You can experiment with all of the History Brush options - Mode, Opacity and Flow until you get the desired result.

The resulting "After" image has had all of the spot scratches removed easily without compromising on the photographic detail of the image.

And there you have it!! Less than five minutes of digital image manipulation to remove those unwanted spot scratches.

If you find the steps taking are a little hard to understand in this text based article, you can click on the link at the end of this article to see the same method explained on our website with the aid of example graphical images.

Gary Wilkinson 2005 - All Rights Reserved

You can see this removal method complete with example images at Basic removal of Spot Scratches in Photos

Feel free to re-print this article provided that all hyperlinks and author biography are retained as-is.

Gary Wilkinson is a photographer, photographic restorer and the owner of a photographic retail business.

He is also the publisher of the http://www.restoring-photos-made-easy.com website, where other methods of correcting common photographic restoration problems are discussed.

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