If exposed to floods you’ll need to know how to restore water damaged photos, to save your precious photographic memories.

In the event your house has been exposed to a flood or water disaster there are things you can do to help stop the water damage. After this is done you’ll need to know how to restore your water damaged photos. This post will give you some tips and tricks on how to do just that.

How to restore water damaged photos

Before and after water damage has been restored

When your photos have suffered water damage it is easy to worry that they cannot be repaired. An instant reaction is to get angry and throw them out. Slow down and don’t panic! some water damaged photos can be restored.  Images that have a good portion of the main subject left can be rebuilt, re-toned and re-coloured.  Some can be heavily cropped to take out the water damage to make new re-framed photos. Others have damage right across the photo but can still be restored. There is no easy fix for this, it is time-consuming and costly but examples like the above, can be fixed and we can save those water damaged photos.

Let us use the photo example of the two children above to plan the restoration steps.

Step 1.

The photo should be scanned when dry and free from mold. Before scanning brush any dry mould from the surface of the photo with a soft dry brush. Be careful, a small makeup brush will do.

Step 2.

Start to digitally clean up the small areas of damage as best you can with the clone tool, fix cracks and damaged areas with the patch tool and spot healing brush tools.

Step 3.

Replace the background with a clean matching one by matching the grain of the existing image and ensuring the edges blend in.

Step 4.

Fix the faded or colour run colours by recolouring the image.  Techniques you can use to recolour are recolouring the skin or using gradient maps to colour specific areas or using some advanced colour techniques to keep the colours varied

More on colouring skin

For the different skin tones, a colour pallet can be made from a reference image. Save a sampled colour from highlights through to dark tones and use these as your skin overlay layers. Customizing your own colours for your own images will help you restore your images accurately. Play with blend modes and experiment. If it doesn’t work out just try another combination of blend modes. There are no rules when it comes to colouring only guidelines.

Water damaged photo of children before and after restoration

Water damaged photo of children before and after restoration

Of course, the 4 steps above simplify the process greatly. Each of the steps has its own skill and you can learn more about each step in the separate blog posts that link in each step. The below image was restored using similar steps but the with the addition of borrowing body parts from other portraits. I received a whole set of water damaged portraits to restore and by borrowing an ear from one and hair from two others, I was able to patch these up. The other damaged portraits were taken at different times but by the same photographer, so the poses were similar but not exact. Other images became my tool kit. When I had restored one image completely I was able to use bits of it to restore others!

Water damaged photo of two boys restored

Water damaged photo of two boys restored

For those who follow my courses, there will be a new course on how to restore water damaged photos in the new year.  I will post the links to the video here when it is released. EDIT: Now the course is live you can watch How to restore water damaged photos on Linkedin.com In the meantime if you have any questions on how to restore water damaged photos ill see if I can help or point you towards another blog post that might help. Need to know the cost of all this? Read how much does photo restoration cost?