Old Photo Restoration: The Process

old photo restoration

Milton H.Greene was a legendary photographer whose work was featured in many publications such as Look and Vogue magazine. Through his talented ability to capture personalities, he brought his subjects’ to life in each of his photos. According to his son Joshua, although much of Milton’s work was published, he died heartbroken that many of his favorite pictures were never seen or reproduced. 

While Milton left behind an incredible body of work, many pieces needed to undergo restoration before they could be presented to today’s audience. Inspired by the opportunity to bring Milton and his work back to life, Joshua first pursued photography after being mentored by his father and later photo restoration. Thanks to digital technology, viewers can see new dimensions to legendary celebrities that do not come through anywhere else.

Here’s how we were able to restore at least  715 photos of Marilyn Monroe, 592 other historical personalities, and 323 iconic fashion photos to date:

Digital Restoration

The first step in old photo restoration is to digitize the photos, capturing each image in the best way that technology will allow. The original film is gently cleaned to remove as much dirt or debris as possible and then scanned with a Hasselblad Flextight scanner to create a working file that can then be used for digital restoration and recoloring. 

The Flexible File format allows the Archives team to capture a raw digital negative that can be more easily restored with digital software. Once the photo is uploaded and opened with Photoshop, the next step is to start the recoloring process.


We start by capturing key touchpoints on the photo. For example, in a photo of Marilyn Monroe, we begin by capturing the eyes, lips, and bold colors of her outfit. Doing so ensures that we maintain highlight and shadow detail on focal points that immediately draw the viewer’s attention to the work. Once imported to Photoshop, it can take between  20 to 60 hours to restore each old photo. 

Most of the cleanup is performed pixel by pixel using the digital healing brush. Each photo is highly detailed, so frequent review is required to ensure a “digital scar” isn’t created during the restoration process, which could distort the appearance of the finished product. 

Because most of the original film has blemishes such as dirt, debris, and scratches, we use Photoshop to cut out the subject and create a feathered path to create a mask. Each photo is then tested across multiple adjustment layers to determine the perfect combination of hues, saturations, and color choices to ensure it retains historical accuracy. 

Depending on the photo, sometimes it will only take two to three adjustment layers with one mask, and others might take as many as six. It’s the face and the hair where getting the colors right requires more control with the masks. 

Quality Assurance

After this, each image is usually printed in seven different types of proofs so that the team can examine how they look when translated to a physical medium. Since customers can order various printed media, it is crucial to examine the proofs carefully to ensure that they translate well across as many mediums as possible. Viewing a big print makes it easy to examine the edges of each mask to ensure it blends properly both on screen and on paper.

If the team notices errors on the physical proofs, they get returned to the digital file, which we adjust for corrections. When a finished restoration is deemed up to standards, it is then posted to the Archives site, where visitors can purchase a print of their favorite photos. 

Milton’s legacy was photographing a variety of up-and-coming Hollywood stars. One of his most notable subjects was Marilyn Monroe. Upon seeing the film after he captured her, Marilyn saw a part of herself in Milton’s photography that was real. He never let anybody see a bad picture if he took one, and his subjects trusted that he would protect their image.  

Thanks to the technology that makes old photo restoration possible, you can bring the experience of fine art right into your home. Browse Milton’s most current prints or request a quote for special orders today. Photo prints are a great way to give personality to any space of a home or business and make great gifts for those with an appreciation of fine arts.