You love the old photo you found in your grandmother's album, but it didn't age well. It's cracked, spotted, and there's a water stain on it. Can you save it without paying a specialist to do it? Yes, provided you have a photo editing program on your computer, and enough patience. Some pictures may seem beyond hope. But as long as it was in focus to begin with, and large swatches of the photo haven't faded so far where there's no image left, you should be able to resurrect the picture to its former glory.
Copy shoot the old photo with a digital camera, or copy it in a scanner. Shoot it at a high resolution, at least 300 dpi for the finished sized print. For a camera, you'll need good lighting, but light the original print from an angle to avoid glare. Set your camera on a tripod so you can use a lower shutter speed to improve exposure.
Import the copy shot or scanned image into your photo-editing program in RGB mode, even if the original is a black and white photo. This allows the finest tuning of the image. While Adobe Photoshop has extensive professional features, many consumer-level graphic editing programs have enough capabilities for this job.
Use the Magnetic Lasso Tool to automatically select the edge of a large-faced area, copy the area, then select "paste." The copied portion automatically will paste onto a new layer in a Photoshop file. Working in the new layer, while keeping the original layer visible below it, select "Image/Adjustments/Layers," and position the sliders to darken the image to match the rest of the photo. The pointers, from left to right, represent shadows, midtones and highlights.
Soften the edges of the corrected portion using dodge or burn tools to reduce any dividing line that appears. Also use the eraser in a brush mode and opacity set to around 35 percent to feather the edge.
Select the Healing Brush Tool or the Spot Healing Brush Tool in the Photoshop toolbar to fix small spots or chips that appear in the original. The Spot Healing Brush removes blemishes by capturing the color and texture of an area surrounding a spot. The Healing Brush takes a sample or pattern from the image and "paints" it into a damaged area. These tools fix the spots on the locomotive in this photo and even along the track.
Patch tears and larger imperfections using the polygon lasso tool to copy a similarly colored and textured area of a photo, place it on a new layer, and position it over the tear. Set the feather control in the lasso tool's menu bar to 15 pixels to patch areas like portions of the sky. This sets the opacity from zero at the edge of the lasso selection to 100 percent 15 pixels in, blending the edge over the background. Select an area near the tear in the print, copy it onto a new layer, then working in the new layer, position the patch over the damaged area. If the edges are still noticeable, increase the pixels for feathering. For areas with finer detail, zoom in on the portion and use several small patches with less feathering to fill in the tear. The tear in the lower left of the photo took 11 patches, all on different levels.
Save the image as a Photoshop file with layers intact, in case you wish to adjust your corrections later. Then save a copy as a jpg. The jpg will flatten the image into one layer. In the jpg file, you can further adjust the brightness and contrast, remove sepia tones or adjust color balances.