How to Repair Smudges in Your Digital Photos

Use photo editing smudge repair commands to correct the problem

What to Know

  • If your photo has a slight blur throughout, use a photo editing program's sharpening tool to remove it.
  • Consider cropping out the smudge if it's on the edge of the image.
  • If you're planning on only making small prints, the smudge might not be noticeable and it might not be worth fixing.

Repairing photo smudges and repairing blurry photos requires basically the same techniques and tips, so continue reading to learn the best methods for fixing these problems, without doing something to cause the photo editing software to create an additional smudge.

How to Repair Smudges in Your Digital Photos

There are many causes of photo smudges. Perhaps you ended up with photo editor smudge after performing edits on your image. Maybe a lens is covered in a substance, creating a blurred area in the image. If an object is moving near the edge of the frame in a slow shutter speed image, it may appear as a smudge. During nighttime photos, an insect flying near the camera lens can reflect the light, looking like a smudge. And there's the old standby cause of an unwanted smudge: the photographer's thumb in the corner of the shot.

  • Slight blur throughout: If your photo's blemish is more of a slight blur that's prevalent throughout the photo, you could have a situation where the camera moved slightly while recording the photo, leading to a slight blur in the image from camera shake. Most photo editing software - including the popular Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements - includes a "sharpening" tool, which likely will eliminate a slight blur. Most image editing software allows you to either sharpen a small area of the photo or the entire photo, depending on your particular problem.
  • Don't over-sharpen: When using photo editing software to sharpen a photo, you’ll want to be especially careful not to "over-sharpen" your photos. It’s an easy mistake to make since greater sharpness seems as if it should always be better. However, over-sharpening often causes the photo to take on a strange look and pattern, almost as if you’ve introduced noise to the image. Start with low sharpening settings with your photo editing software and check the results. Then slowly work up to higher sharpening settings if needed.
  • Large or small: Before deciding whether to spend the time repairing a blurred digital photo, think about how you want to use the photo. If you’re only going to make small prints or only use the photo on a website or on Facebook at a small size, a slight blur in a photo might not be noticeable. However, a large print will reveal a smudge every time.
  • Finding the smudge: Areas of a photo that can be especially problematic with revealing blurring and smudges are any areas that show letters or numbers and areas that have rows of stripes. Take special care to examine these areas of your photos to ensure the level of sharpness you want.
  • Consider cropping: If the area of the photo that contains the smudge is along an edge and doesn't really add anything to the photo, perhaps you can crop that portion of the photo, cutting out the smudge at the same time.
  • Scanning old prints to remove smudges: You should be able to fix smudges in old photo prints using these same techniques. First, though, you’ll need to have the old photo print scanned digitally. To save yourself a lot of time, make sure the photo scanner can work at a very high resolution. It’s worth paying someone to scan your photo prints if you are unsure exactly how to do it correctly.
  • Know when to say when: Finally, some blurred and smudged photos are beyond repair, unfortunately, even with the best photo editing software. If you have a photo that’s severely blurred, either from significant camera shake or because it’s out of focus, don’t waste your time trying to fix the problem. Instead, if possible, go back and re-shoot the photo, taking care to make it as sharp as possible.
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