Restore a Photo

Hello, guys! Well… We had sort of a problem wuth our water tanks and a malfunctioning pump. Let’s just say we got ourselves a waterfall. Anyway… some photographies learnt to swim (or not) and now they look damaged. There is one in particular that is glued to the glass and has some bubbles on it. I tried to peel the photo out of the glass to better scan it (as the results with the glass were quite bad) but it wont come out. Is there a way to:
a) scan the photo glued to the glass without the issue of the glass reflecting the scanner light
b) remove the photo from the glass

Instead of scanning it, could you take a picture of it with a good digital camera using diffuse (non-flash, indirect) light?

I am afraid I will also lose detail on the photo. The problem is that the glass is quite shiny, so I always get reflections. Any ideas of positioning/angles to avoid that?

If this is something really valuable like the only known image of your great-grandfather, you may want to stop and contact some picture framing shops. Odds are that they’ll know a restoration expert in the area who’s done this a few times before. If this is a really old photo from before 1940 or so, any home remedies are likely to cause permanent damage if not utter destruction. Even if this was a photo made last year, you stand a very good chance of ruining it.

You should be able to take a decent picture of this outside on a sunny but overcast afternoon so the light is even and diffuse. You definitely don’t want to try this with a flash.

Once you’re satisfied with whatever you’re able to capture, step two is to soak the photo and glass in warm water. The photo should come free in a while. The tricky part will be drying it. If the image is damaged, you may need to just let it air-dry and hope it doesn’t warp and wrinkle too much, and hope the emulsion stays intact without cracking or flaking off. Ironically, you’d normally put the photo image side against a sheet of glass (assuming it’s on RC or resin coated paper) and squeegee the back side to dry it, but that may cause more damage in this case. Nearly all commercially made photos in the past 30 years or so are on RC paper. Older fiber-based photo paper would be dried in a blotter book.

Use a digital SLR with a polarising filter on the lens. Rotate the filter to minimise the reflections. Then have at it with Photoshop.

My sister has an old picture with the same problem. It’s stuck to the glass and start to rip. I told her this exact same thing. Take it to a framing shop and they can either restore it or send her to someone who can restore it for her. They’ll have chemicals that won’t harm the actual photo but can separate it from the glass. Along with tools, know how/experience and the fact that they do it everyday, it probably won’t be an issue for them.

In the OP’s case, they might just scan it through the glass or they might be able to separate it and remount it on something else.

they have a few computer based programs that can work w/ scanned photos …

taking a photo of a photo is not recommend because of mentioned, taking away from the details …

scan it and use some of the programs to touch up but not take away from the photo …

You can take a photograph with a digital camera from off center, where the reflection would be of a flat black sheet or something that does not reflect visible artifacts.

Photoshop has a feature to stretch a trapezoidal (off center distortion) object back to rectangular). Just be sure to get enough depth of field that both ends of the photo are in focus.

And one more alternative, if you have don’t have a polarizing filter for your camera, is that you can get a polarized sheet of plastic from 3M. When you look directly through it, the image is clear but a bit darker; the nice thing is that it blocks out light from most other angles except straight-on, so you get very little glare. They usually make them for laptops and such, but if you get one made for a tablet (or smaller), you ought to be able to cut it down to size and then maybe take a picture of it from directly above.

Example products here on Amazon, or sometimes computer shops will sell them.

If you put one of those over the glass, you might even be able to scan it… but you might also get a strong moire interference pattern with that. Never tried it =/

if you try the polarized sheet and scan and you get a moire pattern then try with different scanning parameters to see if you can prevent it.


A real, physical polarizing filter is how to photograph through water, glass or other reflective surface - it has a disk with parallel “ribbons” which allow only light from one direction. Rotate it until the glare is gone.
Never tried a digital version - if it doesn’t work, well, now you know why you should have a lens with accessory threads. If you don’t, find the Cokin polarizer and the "universal mount (a filter holder with the 3 screw-down mounts.

p.s. - a polarizing filter does wonders cutting through haze and smog. Always have a UV filter on a SLR lens; keep a polarizer and a warming filter handy. Use the pop-up flash for faces in bright sunlight - it eliminates the brutal shadows from eyebrows, nose, and lips. See “fill flash”.

I don’t know of a way to unstick a photo from glass. I once soaked a (pre-digital era) picture in water for three days, and it still wouldn’t come off without destroying the image.

A good copy of the stuck picture can be made with a macro lens equipped with a polarizer, and the photo lights covered with polarized gels. That will eliminate practically all reflection. A professional photographer specializing in macro photography would have the best equipment. The quality will likely be less than that produced by a decent quality scanner, but should be completely acceptable.

Well… I think I am stuck, then. I will dig into the negatives drawer to see if I can find the original photo, but… well. Last option will be to buy the polarized A3 sheet and scan it with a better scanner (mine is from an HP 6100.)

I will be extremely surprised if a sheet of polarized film improves your scanning. Polarizers only affect light coming from certain angles (approximately 90 degrees if I remember correctly.) In a scanner, I can’t imagine that the light comes from a right angle. More like head on – 180 degrees.

(Polarizers have a very uneven effect when shooting with extreme wide angle lenses because WA lenses admit light from very divergent angles.)

The quality of the scanner won’t make a huge difference. The problem is going to be reflection and focus (since the picture is elevated above the scanning glass.) Possibly there are scanners that allow you change the focus point. I don’t know.

To repeat my previous post: Macro lens. Polarizer filter. Polarized light. And try not to have any light colored objects in the room that might reflect on the glass. Black “velvet” or other flocked black material is the standard for eliminating studio reflections.

A dedicated macro lens can be expensive – a decent consumer-level lens that focusses close can reasonably substitute if the photo isn’t too small.If the lens is fairly new there are probably reviews describing its close-up performance.

If you don’t have a DSLR, the above techniques could work with a “macro” capable point-and-shoot. You’d have to hold or suspend the polarizer in front of lens. A tripod or other camera brace (and the self-timer shutter release) are necessary.

We have a winner! Re-printing from the original negative will be worlds better than trying to salvage a damaged print.

In general, yes, and practically speaking I still think scanning with the sheet on won’t work very well.

However, in the interest of this being the Dope and all, it’s interesting to note that the 3M Privacy Filter is not actually a linear polarizer. In fact I may have incorrectly called it a polarizer to begin with, because that’s what the effect LOOKS like visually, but it’s actually a bunch of tiny vertical slats, perpendicular to the display surface, that ONLY allow light through at the (what you call) 180 degree angle. Much of the other errant light is blocked.

3M calls this a “microlouver light control film” and compares it to mini Venetian blinds on a sheet. Here is their patent from 1990, when they were still the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company, and Figure 1 shows how it works.

It’s really neat stuff, actually, and it works very well for its intended application – to block both emitted and reflected light from a flat display screen to minimize glare and decrease viewing angles for privacy.

I just don’t know if it’ll work well for something like this.

Come to think of it, demian_travis, I think I have a sheet of this about 8.5 x 11 or so big that I could mail to you for testing if you’d like, for just the cost of postage. It most likely wouldn’t work, but it’d be a neat experiment…

ETA: Now that I think about it, I think this mostly blocks light along the X axis, lets it out through the Z axis, and ignores the Y axis. If you had two sheets stacked (rotated) on top of each other, you may get even more glare reduction while still retaining transmissivity through the Z axis (with some loss of brightness)… or it may just be altogether too dark to see. I don’t know.