How much does it cost to restore an old photo?

  • Post category:Fotografia

Everybody has old family photos at home, and sometimes they are almost one century old. However, as nothing lasts forever, old photographs also age and they usually get damaged over time.Since they are our family or community memories, most people would like to make them look shining new again. The problem is that it isn’t always a cheap process, but how much does it cost to restore an old photo?

The price of photo restoration depends on the severity of the defects and the restoration shop labor hour rates. Average repairs are expected to be between $35 to $40 per photo. However, it can get as high as $500 depending on the severity of the repairs.

This estimate may also differ from one place to another and on the skills and proficiency of the restorator. Of course, people with a good reputation will charge you more.

Making a quick estimate

The exact total cost to restore an old photo depends on the quantity and severity of defects. Photos that have severe wrinkles, abrasions, cuts, or missing parts will require a lot of work hours from the restoration service. On the other hand, photos with small stains and thin scratches can be easily and quickly repaired.

In some cases, you can fix those photos yourself at home using free tools after watching some Youtube tutorials. For light retouches, some shops may charge you something from $5 to $10 since those are just quick fixes and not a restoration.

Anyway, I had compiled the following table so you may know what to expect when you request a quote. This table is based on the average prices I could find on several websites, which are Photo Restoration Center, Brian’s Gallery, Damaged Photo Restoration, and Image Restore UK. Those are the first results I could find on Google, so they must be the most accurate.

Severity of defectsWork hoursAverage Price
Light scratches and small stains1/2 to 1 hour$25
Some deep wrinckles1 to 2 hours$25 to $50
Several wrinckles, deep scratches2 to 8 hours$50 to $200
Severily damaged, missing big partsmore than 8 hoursfrom $200

Please, have in mind that those are expected prices and the restorer will give an estimated cost only after seeing the photo for himself. In other words, only the restoration service will tell you exactly how much it will cost to restore your old photo.

How old photos are restored?

To understand how photo restoration fees are calculated, we must learn how it is done. The digital photograph restoration is a well-known and established process with a defined workflow and technique.

This way, if we know how much steps are needed to get the job done, we can estimate how many hours of labor will be required and, thus, how much it will cost to restore and old photo.

The methods of photo digitization

Of course, the restoration of a paper photo with brushes and painting would be a highly sophisticated job that would require a very expensive artisan to do it. Fortunately, digital tools make it so much easier and simple that almost everyone is able to restore their photos. However, it still is something that you must learn some skills to do, and that is why there are specialized shops out there.

So, the first step of photo restoration is its digitization. The original photograph is transformed into a digital negative containing the image. I am using the term ‘digital negative’ because it is the media that is able to be reproduced later, just like the film negative we had in the earlier days, but in the form of a digital file, which cannot be damaged by time.

The digitization can be done in two ways, using a scanner or a digital camera. The scanner method is indicated in most cases since it is easier to eliminate shadows and reflections. Also, the image generated by a flatbed scanner is usually flatter than those generated by cameras.

In some cases, the camera is the best method. Photos that are enclosed into frames that can’t be disassembled are easily digitalized by this method. Photos that are so degraded they would fall apart if touched must be digitalized without physical contact, so digital photography is the only option here.

The digitization will affect the cost to restore a photo because it affects the amount of work required to fix the photograph. A well digitized photo will be much easier to work.

The most used professional photo restoration softwares

Once the image is properly digitized, we can move to the photo editor where the job itself is done. There are several photo editing and restoring software available on the internet.

Among them, the most popular are Adobe Photoshop, of course, and GIMP. Adobe Photoshop is the most used software everywhere and GIMP is its opensource (and free) counterpart. I have been using GIMP for my photo restoration works and it is great! I would recommend it if you want to try doing it yourself in a budget.

This is GIMP, a free and powerful option to Adobe Photoshop

Also, there are several Youtube tutorials teaching to restore photos that you can try yourself. If you have some free time and would want to learn a new skill, it is a great (and fun) idea! A bit of patience and GIMP go a long way!

The workflow of photo restoration

Defects in photos are simply information that is missing. The job of restoration is to recreate this lost information in the most accurate way possible.

To do this, the information in healthy nearby areas is used to redraw the damaged parts. The software has several tools available for this task, the most common clones the texture of healthy parts into the damaged area. The restorator has to manually select the good texture areas and apply them to the damaged parts.

The restoration job is, in fact, a real artistic one since the restorator has to manually redraw one damaged spot at a time. Most people think the software can restore the photo with a simple click but, unfortunately, this is not the case yet. If it was so simple, the cost to restore a photo would be much cheaper.

Cuts, wrinkles, deep scratches and large stains

The major problem of the old photograph restoration are defects that have a great area, such as cuts, wrinkles, and creases. Those defects not only cause loss of local information but they also turn the digitization process tricky because they create several illumination planes during scanning or photographing, further adding to the cost of photo restoration.

Because of that, such photos may suffer from scars that are difficult to eliminate. This, in turn, demands a lot of time from the restorator, increasing the price.

A further complication due to wrinkles and creases is that the restorator must redraw the lost parts of the picture manually and then clone the texture from healthy regions to make it look new again.

Sometimes, a wrinkle may go from one corner to another of the photo, requiring a thorough work of redrawing in the entire extension of a photo. A wrinkle restoration can easily take more than one hour of work to fix.

The complexity of the affected regions also affects the restoration price. For example, missing chunks of a person’s face, a detail of a car, or the head of a horse may claim several hours of work to be done, like in the example below. This may also be the case for large stains.

Small defects, thin scratches, and small stains

On the other hand, well-maintained photos often don’t need much work to look like new again. In such cases, most of the defects are due to the original photo negative, like small scratches and spots there were hard to remove manually back in the day.

Such photos may take almost no time to be restored. In some cases, you can expect to pay as low as 5 bucks, since it may be considered a retouch and not a restoration. However, every photo will become yellowish over time, so a bit of color correction is always welcome.

The image below is an example of a well-kept of an old photograph. Since I just needed to remove some light scratches and small spots, the entire process took about 40 minutes to complete, including digitization.

The limits of old photograph restoration

Since the photo restoration process requires the manual recreation of lost information, the photo will never be like it was originally, especially in heavily damaged areas.

In other words, lost details won’t be brought back, they will be redrawn based on the experience of the restorer. Lost parts will be lost forever, the artist only redraws them the way he thinks best represents what the photo was original.

There are, also, extreme cases of photos that are missing huge chunks, like some examples in this page. This makes me wonder how are the limits between photo restoration and illustration, since those huge missing parts will be redrawn based on research and artist’s view. However, how long are you willing to go to have that old photo back is up to you.

This is what you need to know to understand how much doest it cost to restore a photo

When trying to estimate how much will cost to restore an old photo, you now have some parameters to take into account to make a rough estimate based on how much time you think it will take.

As a rule of thumb, cheap restorations will only cover small defects, thin scratches, small spots and stains. When wrinkles appear, the prices usually goes up rather quickly. You can judge how much work will be needed by the quantity of heavy defects and if they affect highly detailed areas such as a person’s head.

Another factor to take into account is the quality of the service. Premium quality will require more than one person working on the restoration to achieve the highest quality possible. Of course, this type of service will be more expensive.

So, that’s it for today! I hope you now know how much does it cost to restore an old photograph!

Fábio Ardito

Pelo mundo atrás de treta.

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