The process of restoring a badly damaged sepia photo to colour is a long one. This image presented some challenges to keep me busy for hours.

The badly damaged photo

A client contacted me with a very badly damaged photo. There was a figure in the background who had their face missing and the whole image had coverage of fine cracks. It was ok for me to remove the figure at the client’s request. The cracks varied from superfine to chunks of emulsion missing. This occurred right across the photo.

This restore was going to be a tough one. The level of damage was huge and it was going to a long restore.  To restore I could use the “dust and scratch” method, which uses varying levels of dust and scratch filter settings. Starting with small details and moving up to larger settings. The problem with this method is that texture is lost within the cracks and a very smeary mess is left. The image was not terribly sharp to start with so rather than try to filter the scratches with dust and scratches, I took another approach.

Extremely damaged photo closeup

Extremely damaged photo closeup

To preserve the varying textures throughout the photo, the best approach was to use the “healing brush tool”. The healing brush tool can be used to pick up an area of good texture and place it down over a crack. The crack is healed but preserving the tones around that area but replacing the texture on top. I used this for textures in the shadows where the grain was shaper, skin where the grain is very soft, and varying textures on the donkey and clothes.

The Restore

As you can see from the image there are hundreds of cracks. I had to selectively repair smaller area to start with, producing a good block of texture. I started with the brown dress and moved onto more clothes, skin and ground. Each time sampling and healing my way through smaller areas to build up to bigger ones. Once I had enough undamaged textures I could switch to a larger brush to start rebuilding the larger cracks. From here with the bigger area, I could move onto the folds and crease marks. This went on for more than four hours.

damaged sepia photo coloured

Badly damaged sepia photo restored and coloured

Once the bulk off of the damage was removed, I could even the tones with “dodge and burn” and create a well-toned image for colouring. Colouring was done by keeping a varied amount of greens and browns in the in grass and foreground. I made sure the colours were more saturated to the foreground and less in the background. This gives a good sense of depth. Varying the colours and using more than one shade of colour keeps everything looking as natural as possible.

* In the above I talk about restoring a photo in Photoshop. I assume you have basic knowledge of the software and are aware of the terms in quote “” marks. If not simply search the blog.

If you need your badly damaged photo restored and colourized check out my colourizing a black and white photo, main page.

Badly damaged sepia photo coloured
Article Name
Badly damaged sepia photo coloured
The process of restoring a badly damaged sepia photo to colour is a long one. This image presented some challenges to keep me busy for hours and i'll explain how.
Neil Rhodes