My blogging friend Susan Rushton, herself an excellent photographer, has suggested that I write a post explaining how I retouch old photographs.

This is the scan from the original 5 x 8 cm print from about 1927, featuring my maternal grandmother, my mother, and my Uncles Ben and Roy, on holiday at Conwy.

Let it be understood that I am far from an expert in the technical side of reproducing photographs digitally – rather a decided amateur who can just about get his head around what needs to be done. Imagine a flounder out of water.

Years ago, I battled with Photoshop gaining varying degrees of success. This has probably been vastly improved by now. I have also had a look at Lightroom which had me rapidly retreating into the dark ages when I was young enough to understand film photography and and you attached rangefinders and light meters to your non-automatic cameras. Our modern rapidly moving advertisements at the cinema or on TV contain more than enough stimuli to make me feel like Winnie the Pooh.

Fortunately the Photo section of my iMac has a built in editing facility, much of which I have never tried. I do occasionally lighten or darken my pictures, change the exposure, or crop the images, which is straightforward enough. You can do things like changing levels which I don’t understand. You can change colour cast, saturation, etc.; even change the colour altogether to black and white, or sepia; make it warm, cool, or dramatic. And so on.

When you bring up an image onto the screen, you will see a box marked Edit at top right.

Half way down you come to the Retouch option. Beneath that is a scale of size. Size? Size of what, I thought? Applying the little arrow directed by the mouse to points on the scale changes the arrow to a circle the size of which can be varied. It is that circle that needs, by sleight of mouse, to be applied to the affected area of the image.

In order further to explain the process, I have cropped Uncle Ben from the picture above. From this will be seen that the blemishes are somewhat enhanced. This makes them easier to work with but is rather more daunting. What we have here are almost imperceptible cracks in the glaze of the original print, hairs from goodness knows where, and little white spots. Carefully selecting the size of the circle for the area to be improved, we must place it over the blemishes. If they are small spots a click will suffice; if they are someone’s hair clippings or whiskers the circle must be delicately dragged along the wriggling course of the line being followed. It is important not to stray too far off line. This is because what we are doing is transferring pixels from the neighbouring area into the damaged section. If you look at Ben’s left knee there is one black spot to be removed. That would not be difficult. To the side of that is a white arc crossing a black area of shadow. When removing that I would be in trouble if I ran over the white of the knee, because that would bring a streak of knee pigment onto the shadow.

This is what I managed to do with my uncle. I took a break for a couple of hours before

returning to retouch the complete image with which I started.

Three days ago Jackie and Shelly spent the day helping Helen in her garden. My sister-in-law e-mailed me these images today. The ambulant bucket is pretending to be great nephew Max.

This wood pigeon, preening this evening before attempting a conquest, is never far away when we take drinks on the patio. Tonight he is tendered a touch of Compassion.

Nugget, of course, was in closer attendance.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s tasty beef, mushrooms, and peppers in red wine gravy; crisp roast potatoes, cauliflower and carrots; and tender runner beans with which I drank more of the Granacha Syrah. The Culinary Queen had drunk her Hoegaarden while seated in the patio.


  1. I’m quite impressed I actually understood what you were saying and doing – mostly through having asked myself ‘what does this do’ when editing photos and disappearing odd bits of a picture…….. Now the light dawns πŸ™‚ Love the perambulating bucket!!

  2. Thanks for the photo editing tutorial.
    So–you have a wood pigeon friend as well as Nugget. (And don’t we all want a touch of Compassion?) πŸ™‚

  3. Wow, I’m really impressed, Derrick. As much as I love photos, I’m not sure I’d have the patience that you have. It’s a great thing you’re doing. Nugget looks so happy! Thanks for sharing his photo. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks very much, Tootlepedal. It is indeed. When I scanned them all for my sister a couple of weeks ago, we agreed it wasn’t necessary to smarten them up – but I couldn’t leave it there.

  4. Wow I wish I could edit photos the way you do.
    You’re doing a marvellous job.
    Also you may call me ” More” it is my nickname actually apart of my name haha.

  5. Thank you for the photo editing tips. I don’t edit photos much except for cropping, lightening or darkening myself. We have a number of old family photos with those fine cracks and hairs and miscellaneous blemishes.

    I love the ambulant bucket and your attending birds, too!

  6. Wonderful photo tips. I have a stack of ancient photos that I should be doing something with. This is a good start. Thank you.

    Lovely bird shots!

    “The ambulant bucket is pretending to be great nephew Max.” My laugh of the day.

  7. Those sweet birds! OK, I am thrilled that you cleaned up that photo. I would love to do the same. I suppose I need a Mac, though.

    1. Windows & has a built-in program called Windows Live Photo Gallery, which has a ‘Fix’ menu bar that has some photo editing functions, and you can also use Microsoft Paint to touch up images with various styles of brushes or drawing tools, one of which (dropper) copies the colour of any pixel you chose in an image so you can ‘paint’ over blemishes to match.

      Not sure if later versions of Windows have them as ‘standard’?

  8. I have done a little picture editing on my Mac, but not what you’re doing. I may be encouraged to do more. Those birds are so sweet. It makes me wish they could talk back to us in our language (without losing their own of course).

    1. Thanks very much, Lisa. Do have a go. Daunting but rewarding. I wonder how much they understand of what we say. Jackie calls Nugget out of the undergrowth now.

      1. There was a squirrel in my neighborhood years ago that I could feed by hand. I could walk out the door and yell Yo! Squirrel! and it would come. But then I saw it approaching people on the sidewalk and was afraid someone might be frightened or kick it, so I stopped. I think your little bird is safe, though.

  9. Employing the array of digital tools to repair vast areas of those photos is not a job for the faint of heart. Hats off to your excellent rendition!

  10. Thank you Susan, that was a brilliant idea which resulted in a very informative post.

  11. The process that you explain is relatively simple but takes time, a lot of time for retouching, you have to be very careful and also regularly record his work so as not to commit nonsense.
    It also exists in the software that is installed on the computer during the purchase (I had it on my old computer)

  12. HA! on the little bucket-noggin runnin’ around! That made me laugh! πŸ˜€
    How wonderful of Jackie and Shelly to help Helen! πŸ™‚ It makes the work more fun, and less time-consuming! πŸ™‚

    Oh, Little Nugget makes me smile! πŸ™‚

    Thank you for sharing how you are doing such great work on your photo retouching!

    Love your Winnie the Pooh reference! I often feel like Tigger! πŸ˜€
    HUGS for all!!! πŸ™‚
    PS…we need more compassion in the world.

  13. Thank you Derrick for that excellent description of how you are able to retouch up old photo’s loved the result.. And of course seeing your garden birds always a delight.
    Hope you are well Derrick, and your garden should be enjoying a nice refreshing drink now with the rain after that incredible heat-wave..
    Wishing you well, and I should be getting back into the swing of blogging again quite soon..
    Take care both of you
    Sue πŸ™‚

  14. Photo editing can be a hard slog at times, but it can also be quite rewarding afterwards. πŸ™‚

    I bought a CD-ROM!! of Paint Shop Pro (V4) for $5 a couple of years ago.. now all i need is a 3 year bachelor’s degree course in Photo Shop V4 to get any value from it! πŸ™

    Little Nugget is becoming such an accomplished photo model! πŸ™‚

  15. Good advice there, Derrick. Messing about with even new photos takes me ages, just getting them suitable (and sized) for the website. It needs to be done, of course, not necessarily to improve the image – as you must do for older ones – but so that the webpage doesn’t take too long to load.

  16. Thanks for such a clear explanation. I would never have thought how many little wispy marks are on the original if you hadn’t shown us the close up. Removing those needs a lot of patience, but it makes the pictures much nicer. It is actually quite relaxing if you’re not in a hurry.
    Funnily enough, I’m the other way around – I found the Mac’s software tricky to use for retouching. I might give it another try. I have an old copy of Photoshop on my iMac and have gradually, over the years, learned to do some things, but am not an expert and I have never tried retouching old pictures. The most similar things I’ve dealt with have been white flowers with specks of soil on them. I once tried to Photoshop price labels off some pictures, with variable success.

    1. Trying to take out a label is more that I would have tried. Thanks very much, Susan. If you have the latest operating system the editing is much easier.

      1. I don’t think I’ve tried the Mac version for retouching for a while, so perhaps it has improved. I do sometimes try tweaking the overall effect on the Mac. For example, when you are in the Edit screen, press the symbol of a magic wand next to Cancel. It will typically punch everything up too much, but you can click on Adjust at the top, next to Filters and Crop, then slide the offensive ones right back towards the middle until you are happy with it. I just look at the Light and Colour sections (if you have never used them you might need to click the little triangles to see the options). It always overdoes the Brilliance and Saturation for me. I don’t know if it would help with a b&w picture, but it is worth a go if you have a flower picture you like that just needs tweaking. If you don’t like it, press the magic wand symbol again, it will go back to the original.

        1. Thanks very much, Susan. The light section is the one I use mostly – sometimes in combination with curves. I did at first use the magic wand and found the same as you.

  17. Your meticulous, painstaking work on retouching never ceases to astonish me, Derrick. The little toddling bucket is hilarious, as long as adults are nearby to keep him safe, and Jackie is obviously on that duty.

  18. I have an online program I use for many of these processes, although I have both Photoshop and Lightroom on my computer. As a matter of fact, I have big, fat books that claim to be able to explain the mysteries of both. I’ve given it a go a time or two, but not very successfully. Your posting has prodded me to give it another try. Neither of the programs seems at all intuitive to me, but I suspect a larger dose of patience would help me out.

  19. That was a good idea to give your readers and viewers an insight into your photo enhancing methods, Derrick. I too have been and still am baffled by some of the complexities involved, but you make it clear that satisfying improvements can be made using the basic techniques. I use Paintshop Pro myself and can manage much with the clone brush.

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