Restoring Your Damaged Photos

Many of us have old photos that have been passed down over the years, but many have become damaged from bad storage as well as simple aging. Photos become warped, cracked, molded and otherwise damaged.

What to do with a wet picture
One of the biggest problems you can face is having a photo become damaged by water. A flood or similar disaster can cause your photos to become wet and when they dry they may become brittle, warped or cracked. While a warped or cracked photo may be able to be repaired at a later date, it's always best to prevent this from happening by taking immediate action while the photo is still wet.

Air Dry - Carefully separate the photos from their storage (frames, etc) and from each other and drain off any excess water. Spread the photos to dry, face-up on a paper towels or a clean cloth--never dry photos on newspaper, as news print may adhere to the back and the acid in the paper may damage your photos.

Set a fan to circulate the air around your photos (but not directly on them) in order to move dry air in and moist air away. Your photos may curl during drying, but this can be corrected later. The sooner you dry them the better. You may also run a hair dryer on very low or no heat evenly across the photos to promote drying.

Never allow photos to dry in sunlight, as this will cause fading.

Freeze Dry - If you cannot immediately dry your photos with the air drying method, or if some are stuck together and you will be unable to separate them without causing damage, you may freeze them. Wrap the pictures in waxed paper and place them between something rigid to keep them flat while being frozen. Later, when you have the time and space you can bring the photos out, thaw them and then lay them out for air drying.

You should use a deep freeze or other ultra-low temperature in order to freeze the photos as quickly as possible. A freezer with temperatures of -20o or lower is recommended. Slower, warmer freezing leads to larger ice crystals being formed.

If you have two that are stuck together and cannot be peeled apart without damaging them, after you freeze them you should contact a conservator for professional advice or help. Never freeze wet colodion glass plates! They will not survive the process.

What to do with a curled picture
Curling is caused when different layers of a wet print dry out at different rates. By circulating the air and having your photos on a flat, absorbent surface you can prevent most curling. If your photos do curl, you can later take a steamer to them to lightly re-moisten them and again lay them flat on an absorbent surface for drying.

You can also use an iron -- very carefully on curled photos. Put two layers of tissue paper over the photo and on as low of heat as you can provide steam, gently apply the steam to soften the photo. Cover it with a towel and gently apply pressure as you iron, then air dry as described above or replace the tissue paper with paper towels and weigh it down with a book or other flat object as it dries.

A third, though somewhat less-controlled and thus more dangerous process of steaming would be to suspend your photo above a steaming pot of water until it softens and then apply the ironing method.

Moderately and lightly curled photos can be fixed at home, however severely curled or brittle pictures should be handled by a professional conservator.

What to do with a cracked, faded or molded photo
Photos in this category are difficult to treat properly at home and are best-restored by a conservator. Home methods can often cause more damage to the photo or may affect its stability in the long-term. However, professional restoration of the original photo can be a very expensive prospect. Often the best method of restoring photos damaged in this way is through professional digital restoration.

A digital restoration involves making a high-resolution scan of the photograph and then correcting the flaws in the digital copy. 29k Productions scans photos at 1200dpi, making an extremely high-resolution digital reproduction of the original. We then take the image into Photoshop and fix the issues observed. Most damage can be repaired in this way, including stains, cracks, fading, mold marks and other problems. Some sepia-toned photos will look better in black and white, a question we will advise the client about as needed. At the customer's request we will also do advanced restoration, even adding color to black and white or sepia photos. For more information about having 29k Productions digitally-restore your old photos, contact

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