Scaling Up those Heritage Photos

Secrets to increasing a photo’s size and still have it look good

Show me an old family photo and I’m usually scanning it and zooming in to take a look around at all the little details in the photo. In my Heritage September Monthly Class, I worked with several pretty tiny photos that I had scanned with my iPhone camera and was able to enlarge with success.


If you took my class, you might remember me talking about my great-grandfather, Reuben Clouse?  He was the young boy that is found living in the 1880 Federal Census without his family in DeKalb County, Indiana as a boarder at the young age of twelve. At this point, his family was all still living at their home in Ohio.  I lamented that I have been searching in hopes of locating a photo of him along with his family.


Well, guess what? I’m excited to say that I have had success in locating not only a photo of him, but a family portrait of his wife and four of his children all together. The best part? I now have the only known photo of my grandmother on my father’s side as a young two-year-old girl sitting on her mother’s lap! And yes, a few tears might have flown when I first set eyes on it!


Can a teeny-tiny photo be enlarged?

Stick with me on this, because you might find yourself in the same boat one day… I’m so thankful for the lovely, previously unknown, cousin of mine that had uploaded this photo to her FamilySearch tree but the photo, itself, looked like it had seen better days. I’m always up for a challenge, so I decided that I might attempt to bring some life back to this precious photo but it has some issues that are harder to work with than a photo that has been scanned with a camera or regular scanner.  It has been downsized… dun, dun, dun…  (sound effects for drama!)


We find ourselves downsizing things all the time, but this photo was all of 800 x 555 pixels which doesn’t sound too bad until you hear that it has a file size of 61.3 Kb. That’s a pretty small amount of information and it can happen easily. You might also remember an article I previously wrote titled, “One Heritage Photo Scanning Hack You Need to Know” and I talk about how easy it is to take photos with helpful apps and then end up with pics that have very little data left.  It’s this lack of data that makes it pretty tough to scale a photo up and keep it looking good.

That Moire Effect

Have you ever saw moire taffeta? Well, after my first attempt to zoom in on my newly found photo, I was disappointed because it looked a bit like moire taffeta (not in a good way) and it wasn’t nearly as pretty as my bridesmaid dresses looked some 32 years ago! That was disappointing because in order to do any restoration work, I really wanted to zoom in so I could begin to dive in. All was not lost though, because I am also happy to report that I’ve come across a way to upsize and not degrade the photo quality.


Go ahead and click on this photo to zoom in and see what I’m talking about!


In this example, you can see a zoomed in picture showing my photo, untouched and zoomed in on the right, along with my specially upsized photo on the left. I took my original photo that started out as 800 x 555 pixels at 61.3 Kb and now I have a photo that is a whopping 2299 x 1581 pixels but now shows a size of .98MB. It’s not any clearer at this point, but when I zoom in, at least the photo looks the same as the original and this gives me a base to start the restoration process.


Of course, it would be a perfect world to just contact my new-found cousin and ask her to re-scan the photo, but sometimes this is just unrealistic and this is one of those times. You see, I found this cousin through DNA matches on and I was simply thrilled to have her reply, let alone start to bombard her with photo requests!

The more pixels, the merrier…

How is the best way to upsize a photo without degrading it even more? It’s a bit like taking a tablespoon of peanut butter and spreading it onto a slice of toast. If I take that same tablespoon of peanut butter and spread it across 4 slices of toast, you can bet that the amount of peanut butter will be significantly lower on each slice. Well, it can look the same with a photo that you are trying to enlarge. You begin to see those pixels and your photos take on the look of the pixelated objects which is never a good thing, but especially terrible when trying to restore a Heritage photo! They can start out “soft” like mine and quickly go downhill with any retouching.


Got any teeny-tiny photos waiting to blossom a bit?

Here are the details:

  1. In Photoshop and PS Elements, click on IMAGE>IMAGE SIZE
    1. Change the Unit of Measurement to PERCENT
    2. Upsize by 10% increments
      1. Enter 110 Percent in the Width
      2. Make sure the RESAMPLE is checked and Bicubic Smoother (enlargement) is chosen
      3. Make sure that you Constrain the Ratio as well. (We want the Length to enlarge by 110% as well!)
    3. Click OK to make your first upsize.
    4. Continue to do steps B & C until you start to see any undesirable side-effects or reach your desired size.

Just a note: You can simply enter the size you desire right away and go directly to that larger size, but when you do that, the program has a lot of space to fill and that’s where the moire effect can begin to happen. Taking it up by no more than 10% at a time gives it a chance to enlarge the image without degrading it any further.


Now, I’m back to beginning the photo restoration process. A little Curves here and some Levels there sprinkled with a few other adjustments and I’m pleased with the final product — all ready for its debut!

You can find apps that can help with upsizing and that is the only thing that they do, but if you already have PS or PSE, then I say, why not use what we have? Happy hunting! I’d love to hear if you have success with this method.

A little excited? You bet!

I’m getting really close to unveiling my grandparents’ book and it might not be exactly as you might expect it to look and this page is right out of that personal book. I love working with several artists from The LilyPad and Etc by Danyale is right up there with the top of them! My Heritage class contains one of her kits and this photo above was made using the Abundant kit.  I just showed my new format to several people and they asked how they could learn how to put their books together like it, so I’m pretty excited to see it all come together! First things first: get my own book finished.

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  • Liz R November 17, 2017   Reply →

    OMG!!!! Thank you for sharing… this sounds wonderful… I did not think there was any hope for tiny photos… Will be saving these instructions…. I wish you lived next door so I could pick your brain regularly!!!!!

    • Michele Kerr November 17, 2017   Reply →

      Thanks Liz! I just keep poking along working on my own project and there just always seems like I find one thing or another that I think maybe someone else might find helpful. It’s always so good to hear that someone actually did!

      You are more than welcome to ask questions in the Scrapaneers Forum directed to me or I have a Facebook page titled, It’s a Life Story. You can always feel free to ask away there as well!

      I also have a website that has quite a few articles posted, but I have to admit that the Scrapaneer articles have been keeping me busy!

  • Vicki November 18, 2017   Reply →

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this. One question and it may have already been addressed. Any tips on DIY slide processing? I purchased a gadget because it mentioned 20 mg px results to scan slides but ah… I must be missing a step. The slides themselves are blown out/blurry but I will work with what I have. Not certain when I can peek back in to this website because of time constraints so thank you in advance for your response.

    • Michele Kerr November 20, 2017   Reply →

      Hello Vicki! I’m so happy that you found it as helpful as I did! What a difference it made on my picture — I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I started to edit the small original version. It got ugly pretty quickly! 🙂

      Your slide processing question kept me from responding quickly until I had a chance to look around for a good answer. I don’t have many things in slides, but I do have a lot of negatives, so the answer I found also caught my attention. I’m Evernoting it so I can find it when and if I ever get to working on negatives! (I have the majority of my older photos all printed out so I will only really need to work from the negatives in case I have done a bad cropping job (which I was known for years ago!) )

      Here is one answer I found. If you have a chance to look at it and try it, let me know if it helped any!

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