Removing ‘Crop Circles’ from a Vintage Photo


Call them doughnuts, crop circles, Cheerios or any other term you like. One thing was clear: I could not post and share this vintage photo from the late 1920s with hundreds of circular marks infecting every corner of the image. I looked at this photo many times over the years and sighed at the thought of removing the pervasive stains so the photo could be presented with the dignity it deserves.

The photograph shows my great uncle Marvin Treutel and four friends (or relatives) posing at the side of what appears to be a Ford Model T. The image is a bit soft and out of phase, but it still offers a glimpse at five fresh faces in Wood County, Wisconsin, about the year 1929 or 1930. Marvin (at center) is the baby brother of my grandmother, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman. They grew up in the tiny village of Vesper, Wisconsin.

The original image was speckled with tiny circular stains. The edited version (below) has the flaws removed.
The original image was speckled with tiny circular stains. The edited version (below) has the flaws removed.

I did not pay much attention to the original print when I scanned this photograph perhaps eight or nine years ago. But every time I opened the digital file, I was saddened by the visual damage done to the image. I cannot tell what caused such similar markings on the photo. Perhaps some kind of oil had been sprayed and landed on the photo board. The circles were too uniform to have been made by raindrops or some other cause.

When I set off to remove the stains, I first tried a nifty software title called Snapheal ($49.99, Macphun Software). I’ve used Snapheal on countless photos to remove damage or annoying visual clutter like overhead power lines. After playing around with the settings, I started blotting out the crop circles. It worked well in areas like the sky, but on faces or fine detail like fabric, I found it left artifacts behind.

Next I turned to the venerable image editor Adobe Photoshop, which has fantastic tools for repairing and enhancing digital photos. To do this properly, I knew I was in for a long project. I used Photoshop’s healing brush tool. Photoshop allows you to select a similar section of the photo for source material, then the healing brush does some magic over the flawed area. Sometimes this requires a few tries to get the best results. Soon I was on a roll, although faced with the challenge of removing several hundred circles.

The circular flaws covered most of the image (above), but were digitally removed (below).
The circular flaws covered most of the image (above), but were digitally removed (below).

I split this arduous project over several afternoons and evenings. It was painstaking work. My goal was to remove the flaws without changing the material underneath.

I don’t know how many hours it took, although it was along enough to listen to a healthy sampling of my music library. Mel Tormé gave an assist on the car and the ground, while Nat King Cole serenaded me through the sky and trees. In between, the likes of Styx, Supertramp, Kansas and Joe Jackson did their part.

Certainly there are other methods to achieve the final results that I obtained. Photoshop has a “content aware” method to remove objects or fill in areas of an image. I felt this approach would alter the photo too much. My chosen method was worth the extra time. Using the healing brush gave me the control to maintain the integrity of the photo. Whenever I edit photos like this, I want them to appear (as much as possible) as they did the day the family received them from the photo studio. This sets the bar pretty high, but it is a worthy goal.

The final edited image is below:


©2016 Treasured Lives

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