This article is an excerpt from the following book: I've Got a Human in My Throat: Create More Optical Delusions with Adobe Photoshop.
Restoring old photos requires a bit of skill and a lot of patience, yet it's one of the most rewarding techniques you can learn. Bring history alive again using some of Photoshop's most basic tools.
I chose this image as an original because it's typical of many of old photos: a good image that's showing some aging, minor scratches, and lots of artifacts that need to be removed. Some old photos are in need of major repair work that might require replacing missing areas with pieces of other images. I haven't addressed that in this tutorial, but these techniques are useful in all restoration.
Photo restoration is generally a job that requires patience. You almost always need to work over the entire image, and usually, as in this case, most of it will be done in small steps. You can use the Healing Brush tool, but I prefer using the Brush tool, which mimics the conventional way of restoration: brushwork and airbrushing.
I began by working on the men. I used a small, soft brush set at 40 to 50% opacity, and with one finger on the Alt key, which toggles your tool to the Eyedropper, I began the process. With the Eyedropper, I picked up tone that was as close to the density I needed as possible. Usually that's just to the side of or above or below the actual area to be retouched. I brushed that on using multiple strokes because that gives a less obvious result than using a single stroke at 100% opacity. It's a much better blending technique. Both men were retouched this way, but this image shows only the finished work applied to the man on the left.
In this step, work was done on the truck. The larger areas involved afforded an opportunity to work a bit quicker. I masked the truck body area around the Fatima sign with Quick Mask, inverted it, and brushed in a medium tone picked up from that area at 100% opacity. On another layer, I used a large, soft brush at 10% opacity, black and added that tone to the lower portion of the selected area, building up the density gradually. I repeated this procedure using a light gray tone, again picked up from the truck body, and "airbrushed" that tone onto the upper area. All the areas on the truck large enough to be masked were done the same way. The cab's canvas top was also done in this fashion, with touch ups and accents finished with a small, soft brush at low opacity. I added some noise using Filter > Noise > Add Noise, about 3%, to match the grain in the original photo. This image also shows the retouching on both men.
The retouching on the Fatima sign is all freehand brushwork. On a separate layer, I used a hard-edged brush at 100% opacity and traced over the lines on the original. I picked up the line density from the original and adjusted the brush size to match the original type. I added another layer, put it below that one, and brushed in tones behind the new lines matching the existing densities. I selected Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur for the type lines at 1 pixel, and added 3% of noise overall.
Work on the sample bag required some freehand rendering also. Using a small, soft brush at 20% opacity, I "airbrushed" over the spotted areas. I concentrated on just restoring the shapes that existed in the original and avoided adding anything new. It's important when restoring old photos to remain as faithful as possible to the original image. To begin simulation of the bag design, I created an oval shape on another layer, filled it with a light gray, and reduced the opacity of that layer to about 35%. I further lightened or darkened areas of the oval with the Burn and Dodge tools to have it conform to the bag wrinkles.
I was unable to find an example of the Fatima font, so I used one that seemed fairly close to restore the bag lettering. I used the Warped Text (Layer > Type > Warp Text) feature to shape the lettering and Transform > Scale and Transform > Skew to create the proper size and angles. Normally you might find an image of the proper cigarette package that could be placed in the image, but due to copyright constraints I decided to render in the pack. I rendered the package and added in some suggestions of the Fatima image. The type was added in the same way as described above.
This is the final result. The background was retouched using the same technique that was used on the men, a small, soft brush at about 40 or 50% opacity brushing over all the scratches and spots. Noise was added at about 3% to every area that was brushed to match the film grain. For more information, see I've Got a Human in My Throat: Create More Optical Delusions with Adobe Photoshop.