Restoring Old Faded Photographs With Affinity Photo

by Jun 15, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Restoring Old Faded Photographs With Affinity Photo

Recently, my daughter gave me an old, faded photograph and asked if I could restore it. The answer was “of course”, but then she had others that she also wanted to restore. After a quick internet search, I found lots of people looking for information about restoring old photographs. This seemed like the ideal subject for an article, so I’ll share how I restored my daughter’s photo.

Here’s a shot I took of the original photo using my iPhone. This shows you just how faded the original photo is.

the original faded photo which we think is over 100 years old

I’ll be using Affinity Photo to restore the fading and repair any damage to the photo. You can though also use a similar approach and tools in Adobe Photoshop.

Capture the Photo Digitally

This is probably the most difficult task. You need to capture the original image with as much detail and quality as possible. The shot I took using the camera on my iPhone probably isn’t good enough. For one thing, I couldn’t place the camera directly over the old photo because I was casting shadows. This skewed the image which would need to be corrected before editing.

But if your only option is to photograph the original, try to place the camera directly over the photo. Use a couple of light sources to light the photo directly, as this will help to prevent shadows. If you find you can’t get in a good position and the image is skewed, use the Transform Tools in Lightroom or dedicated software like Nik Perspective Efex or DxO ViewPoint. These make it easy to straighten the image and remove distortion.

Another option, and the one that I prefer, is to scan the image using a flatbed scanner if you have access to one. Here is the scan I made using an Epson V700 flatbed at 2,400dpi.

old photo scanned on an Epson V700 flatbed scanner

When scanning an old photo for restoration, it’s usually a good idea to make the scan larger than required. In this example the 2,400dpi resolution produced an image that was a little over 11 x 9 inches. The intention is for the final image to be 8 inches wide. This will help with the next step.

Crop the Image

The next step in the restoration process is to crop the image. This is one good reason for scanning the original photo larger than is required.

If you look back to the original scan above, you can see two problems:

  1. The photo isn’t level in the mount.
  2. The edge of the mount is visible in the scan.

We can correct both problems by cropping away the edge of the photo using the Affinity Photo Crop Tool.

You will find the Crop Tool in the Tools Palette, on the left of the interface when using the Photo Persona.

Selecting the Affinity Photo Crop Tool

After selecting the Crop Tool, you will see a crop overlay appear on the open image. You can then click and drag this to resize it over the area you want to keep. When the overlay is in position, click the Apply button to make the crop.

This tutorial will help you learn more about using the Affinity Photo Crop Tool, including how to use it to straighten an image.

Correct the Fading to the Photo

Now that we have the photo in a good starting place, it’s time to correct the fading. To do this we will use a Levels Adjustment layer in Affinity Photo. Photoshop has a similar Levels Adjustment. The technique I’ll share works with both and has the added benefit of correcting the yellowing of the image at the same time.

First add a new Levels Adjustment layer to the image. You can do this by clicking the icon at the bottom of the Layers Studio Panel as shown below.

Adding a new Levels adjustment layer to the image

After adding the Levels adjustment, you will see the Levels dialog. In the dialog select to adjust the Red colour channel of the image.

Adjusting the black and white level in the Levels dialog

After selecting the Red channel, click and drag the black level on the left until it meets the left edge of the Red channel histogram. Then repeat this but using the white level on the right. You can see this adjustment indicated in the screenshot above.

After adjusting the Red channel, change the dropdown to the Green channel and repeat the adjustment. As before, move the black and white levels to meet either end of the Green channel histogram. Finally, change to the Blue channel and repeat the adjustment.

After applying the correction to the three colour channels, you will see both the fading and the colour corrected in the photo. Here’s a before and after showing the old, faded photo on the left and the restored image on the right.

comparing the old, faded photo with the levels adjustment

Removing Dust and Scratches

Whilst Affinity Photo has a Dust & Scratches filter, I don’t recommend using it to restore detailed areas of an old photo. With our image, the filter will destroy a lot of the finer detail in the lady. Instead, we will use the Inpainting Brush Tool to repair any dust and scratches on this part of the photo.

As we want our restoration to be non-destructive, we will start by adding a new, empty layer to the image. You can do this by clicking the New Pixel Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Studio Panel. Alternatively, you can click the Layer menu and choose the “New Layer” option there. This adds a new empty layer to the image where we can make our repair using the Inpainting Brush Tool.

You will find the Inpainting Brush in the Affinity Photo Tools Palette.

Selecting the Inpainting Brush Tool

It’s part of a group with other repair tools so you may find that one of those is visible in the Tools Palette instead. If it is, click the bottom right corner of the icon to display the group. You can then select the Inpainting Brush Tool from the list.

Configure the Inpainting Brush Tool

After selecting the Inpainting Brush, you should check it’s settings in the Context Sensitive Toolbar, along the top of the Affinity Photo interface.

Inpainting Brush settings in the Toolbar

The most important setting is what will be sampled by the brush to make the repair. This is found in a dropdown list on the right side of the toolbar. There are two possible settings which are “Current Layer” and “Current Layer & Below”. The option to choose is “Current Layer & Below” or you will find nothing happens when you use the brush on the empty layer.

It’s also helpful to check the Brush Opacity, Flow and Hardness settings. I like to have the Flow and Opacity both set to 100%, whilst the Hardness is at 80% to produce a slightly soft edge. If you don’t understand the difference between Opacity and Flow, see my Affinity Photo guide to brush settings.

Having configured the Inpainting Brush, we can now start work to repair the damage to the photo.

Spot and Scratch Repair

When using the Inpainting Brush Tool to repair scratches and remove dust, it’s best to work with the image magnified. This is another reason why working with a slightly larger image is helpful. It makes dust and scratches easier to see and remove.

With this photo, I also magnified the image to 200% which allowed me to make the repair using a very small brush. I find that it’s best to not paint over too large an area. With dust spots, click once on the spot and the Inpainting Brush will replace the area with a newly sampled area of the image. For scratches or larger pieces of dust, click and then drag with the brush whilst holding down the mouse button. When you release the button, the repair is applied.

When using the Inpainting Brush, be sure that you have the “empty” pixel layer selected in the Layers Studio Panel. If you don’t, the repair will be made to a different layer. The layer where you are making the repair should also be the top layer in the image. That way, the Inpainting Brush is sampling the current layer and all the other layers in the image below it.

Working with the Inpainting Brush, you should be able to repair all the dust and scratches in the image. Here’s the restored photo when the work is complete.

Finshed photo following repair to remove scratches and dust

Repairing Old, Faded Photos Video

Earlier, I said that Affinity Photo has a Dust & Scratches filter. Because the background in this photo is less important, we can use the filter to quickly fix damage to that. If you would like to know how to use and combine it with the Inpainting Brush repair, watch the following video. The video also shares a few other techniques I used to complete the restoration work.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel

You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

Something else that you often find when restoring old photography is that the photos are slightly soft. If that’s the case and you want to sharpen them, I recommend trying Topaz Sharpen AI. You can read more about why and the surprising results I achieved with my film photography. I’ve found it excellent for sharpening film negatives and slides as well as old, scanned photos.

More Affinity Photo Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Affinity Photo Tutorials page.

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