This Tutorial published at

Some of 'my' methods for Restoring/Retouching pictures.
Posted by: Flora on 12-31-1969.

"A step-by-step description of some methods I use for restoring pictures. (Working with Photoshop and Photoshop CS2) "

The following techniques/methods are surely not the best and definitely not the only ones ... They are simply descriptions of some of the steps I take regularly when working on pictures.

The reason I'm writing this is that I've been asked very often to explain some of the methods I use to get to 'my' results and, usually, I answer with plenty of details, but all this gets 'lost' under 'tons' of new Threads and Posts making a search for it a very frustrating procedure.

That's it ... and now let's start...

Thank you very much rnbluvva for letting me use your picture of 'baby Isaac' for this.


If necessary, the first step I take in restoring a picture, is balancing shadows/Highlights .... It's a very useful step for bringing out every possible detail hidden in dark shadows or bright highlights ... Solid black or pure white  contain no details so they will simply turn different shades of gray.

Since each picture is different and have different problems, there are no 'standard values I can give you for this .... it's a matter of trial and error, of moving the sliders until the 'right' balance is found .... and for right balance I mean whatever values combination leading to the result each of us likes most ....

For this picture I did the following:

  • Opened the picture in Photoshop. (Original)


  • Duplicated the Background Layer and run Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlight , checked both: Preview and Show more Options boxes and accepted the 'proposed' default values.. (Values and Shadow/Highlight)



Here   Is a Tutorial of what can be achieved with a Shadow/Highlights Adjustment Layer.


I always used to duplicate the 'full' layer for trying out changes and corrections ...until Ed (thanks again for this wonderful Tip!) posted a tip about using 'blank Layer' instead!

A Blank/Empty Layer is like a transparent sheet placed on top of the picture you want to change  ... you can do what you want on it: paint, colour, etc. .... To better adapt/blend the changes made on the blank layer with what is underneath, you can move it around, increase or decrease its size, change its Mode and Opacity, blur it ... you name it ... the amazing thing is that all the changes you have made so far affect your blank layer only leaving the underlying original image 'untouched until you 'merge' the layers or 'flatten the image.

If at the end you are not satisfied with what the the final result would be, you can either correct what you did on the transparent sheet or you can throw the transparent sheet away, put a new one on your 'untouched' original picture and start again ...

Also, whatever you do on that transparent sheet/blank Layer is limited to the specific areas you want to change ... the rest of the sheet/layer remains transparent ..., beside the obvious enormous advantage of being able to see exactly what your changes are going to look like without having to 'mess up' the real thing yet, by using blank layers, the increase in the file size is a fraction of what it would be duplicating the full layer each time you want to change something! (sometimes I get to 20-30 'blank' correction Layer per image!!!)

The way the corrections/changes on a blank layer interact-with/influence what is underneath depends on the 'blank' layer Mode and its position ... meaning you can put as many correction blank layers as you want on top of each other ... just remember that the changes made on the 'topmost' one will be the ones which, if the layer's Blending Mode is Normal, will change/cover/hide whatever other change had been made in the same position under it.

Let's see how it works:

TIP: I always keep an untouched original version open for a constant check  on the natural or unnatural look of my changes...

After the Shadow/Highlights adjustment, the picture looks much better already, but blotches and uneven spots are very visible and distracting...

Image 1

...So I created my first 'blank' correction Layer:

  • Keeping the ALT key pressed, I clicked on the 'Create a new Layer' button at the bottom of my Layers' Palette (Image 2)

Image 2

  • In the new dialog box I changed the Layer's name to 'Lighten' then went to 'Mode:' and after clicking on the down arrow on the right, I chose 'Lighten'. (Image 3) and 'OK'

Image 3

Important: When working with 'blank layers', just remember to check the 'Sample all Layers' option whenever available (Image 4)...

Image 4
  • Now that I had my new 'blank' Layer set to Lighten... (Image 5)

Image 5
  • ...  selected a very soft edged/fuzzy brush, changed its Opacity to 10 - 15%,(Image 6)

Image 6
  • .... 'zoomed' in strongly on the part I wanted to correct..sampled from a lighter area close to the discoloration/blotch on Isaac's cheek, (Image 7)

Image 7

TIP: To sample colour after having already selected the Brush Tool, press and keep pressed the Alt Key ... your brush will turn into a 'color picker',  move it over the point you want to sample from and simply left click with your mouse... Release the Alt key, your foreground will have changed to the colour of your choice, and your brush will be 'back' and ready to use.

  • ... adjusted the brush size to cover the 'blotch'  (simply press '[' to decrease or ']' to increase), and carefully painted over the dark 'blotch' to minimize/cover it. I'd rather use several passes with a low Opacity Brush than fewer at higher Opacity ... the result is more natural and it minimizes the rather 'flat' look of a too strong 'coat of paint'.
  • Repeated the procedure of sampling and painting wherever necessary in the picture.
  • In Image 8 what my 'blank' Lighten layer looks like after my corrections.

Image 8
  • I added a bit of noise to my correction Filter>Noise>Add Noise (Amount 2.3% - Uniform - Monochromatic)and very lightly blurred it Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur (Radius = 0.4 pixels)... This to better blend in and avoid oversmoothed and textureless areas which are dead giveaways for manipulation.
  • In Image 9 Isaac's cheek before & after 'lightening'.

Image 9

  • If  after the corrections my image looks a bit 'flat'  I add a blank layer set to Overlay on top and, with a very soft black/white brush (Opacity 5-10%), constantly checking the original 'untouched' version I carefully paint over shadows and highlights to enhance them and bring back the natural 3D feeling without having to tweak with overall contrast.     The difference after this procedure might be very subtle but I found it makes a big difference in the 'natural' look of the finished restoration. (Image 10)

Image 10

  • It was painting on blank layers set to Soft light, Lighten, Darken and Overlay, using black and white brushes on Soft Light and Overlay and sampled colour brushes on the others, that I managed to partially bring out and 'reconstruct' the details in Isaac's Mom's eyes as naturally as possible...  (Image 11)  (The whole picture can be seen here )

Image 11
  • Merged Visible at this point.

To Merge Visible all the layers with the changes made so far, without deleting any of the correction Layers previously created, Just follow these simple steps:
  1. Click on your top Layer to activate it (becomes blue)
  2. Create a New Layer on top of it by clicking on the 'New Layer' icon at the bottom of your Layers' Palette.
  3. Click on your Layers' Menu (the little arrow on the top right of your Layers' Palette) and, keeping the Alt key pressed, click on the 'Merge visible' Option.
A PS Action for 'Merging Visible' can be downloaded here .


Dust & Scratches

When it comes to skin smoothing,  the first step I take is:

  • Duplicate the Merged Layer.
  • Run Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches .... The trick here is to find the right balance between Radius and Threshold .... meaning ... increase the Radius until practically all blemishes have disappeared,  increase the Threshold until I get as much texture as possible back but not the blemishes .... And again, since each picture is different there are no 'standard values' .... Like for my Shadow/Highlights Adjustment, it's a matter of trial and error until the 'right' balance is found ....

    After this procedure, the duplicate looks really awful ... nearly all details have disappeared and it's generally a 'mess'  ....  Not to worry ... add a black = Hide All Layer Mask to the Dust & Scratches Layer and, making sure you are working on the Layer Mask, with a soft white brush paint over the parts you want to correct, to reveal the 'smoother' skin hidden by the Mask. I usually stay clear from eyes, nose mouth, ears and hair not to lose vital details and, when working around these areas, I lower the opacity of my brush for the same reason.

  • For this picture I used the following values (Image 12)

    Image 12

  • is what my Layer Mask looks like (Image 13)

Image 13

  • .... and here a zoomed in Before & After Dust&Scratches. (Image 14)

Image 14

    • Merged Visible.

    Vikki describes this procedure perfectly in her excellent tutorial The Awesome Power of Layer Masks
    and for those still unfamiliar with creating or using Layer Masks,  here is a beginner's tutorial.

    Neat Image

    If after the Dust&Scratches adjustment the image needs further 'smoothing', I run it through Neat Image. Neat Image is a Noise removing Software and the free standalone version can be downloaded here .  (Help, 'How to...', tips and tricks are also to be found on the Neat Image site.)

    • Duplicated the Merged Layer.

    • For this picture I run Neat Image with the following values: (Image 15)

    Image 15

    • And here is a Before&After Neat Image. (Image 16)

    Image 16

    After correcting colour (but this is another Tutorial), contrast and a final light sharpening, here is my final Before & After. (Image 17)

    Image 17

    Wow .... I hope nobody has fallen asleep .... this was supposed to be a mini-tutorial!!!!

    I hope this helps .... and you know where to find me should you have questions about it...

    Ciao, ciao .... Flora.
    P.S. I worked on Isaac's pretty little face only...

    This Tutorial published at