Saturday, October 1, 2022

Use This Free Tool to Restore Faces in Old Family Photos

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Photo: hjf (Shutterstock)

Since its invention in 1826, modern photography has been constantly evolving. But technology aside, the fact that we have the ability to look at actual images (as opposed to illustrations or painted portraits) of people’s faces from almost 200 years ago is pretty remarkable.

This is especially true when it comes to our own family photos. Whether the earliest ones in your possession are posed studio portraits, or more modern, candid images, it may be difficult to make out some of the faces of previous generations. Fortunately, there is an online tool that can help. Better yet, it’s free. Here’s what to know.

How to use the free online photo restoration toolThis online tool—called GFPGAN—first made it onto our radar when it was featured in the August 28 edition of the (excellent) Recomendo newsletter, specifically, a post by Kevin Kelly. In it, he says that he uses this free program to restore his own old family photos, noting that it focuses solely on the faces of those pictured, and “works pretty well, sometimes perfectly, in color and black and white.”

There are several ways to access the program—as outlined in this post on ByteXD—but we got there using this Baseten web page, per Kelly’s recommendation.

The tool is incredibly easy to use. If you are accessing GFPGAN on your phone, you have the option of selecting a photo from your library, or taking a new photo to use. When we accessed the page on a laptop, the only option was choosing a file from your computer.

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Anyway, once you upload the photo, tap or click the green “Restore photo” button, and then wait for the final product. While the results aren’t instant, the restoring process takes roughly 15 to 20 seconds.

First, your original image will show up on the left, and then a few seconds later, the restored image will appear on the right. There’s a link you can click directly underneath the restored photo to download it. That’s it!

Of course, if a photo is damaged and part of someone’s face has torn off, GFPGAN can’t make it reappear, but the tool can improve the quality of what’s there. As an example, here’s a screenshot from the version of the program on the Baseten web page, featuring one of my own family photos:

Screenshot: Elizabeth Yuko

I never knew who the woman on the bottom left of the photo was, but in the restored image, I can easily identify her as my great-aunt.

Additional features of GFPGANAccording to the ByteXD post, in addition to fixing or restoring faces in old photos, you can also use GFPGAN to increase the resolution of the entire image. Plus, because the tool works using artificial intelligence, it can also come in handy if you need to fix AI art portraits. ByteXD provides instructions for both upscaling and improving the quality of AI art portraits, for people interested in those features.

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