How to Improve Old Polaroid Instant Camera Pictures

By Shawn M. Tomlinson

With some basic techniques, make an old Polaroid photo look new.
i Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Polaroid instant photos give a nostalgic feel to pictures, but these images were once limited by color negation and blurry qualities. Polaroids also never provided negatives. Without a negative, enlargements or copies of Polaroid pictures became nearly impossible. With photo editing software, however, photographers and artists digitize the Polaroids and reveal color correction and sharpness in the images. Older Polaroids still do not have the same image quality associated with traditional film due to resolution, but improvements still allow for a better picture. You can use any variety of photo editing software to improve Polaroids, from the high-end industrial standard Adobe Photoshop to the consumer-level Photoshop Elements, or freeware packages such as Gimp or Picasa.

Step 1

Place your Polaroid instance camera photos on the glass of your flatbed scanner. Place several images on the glass at once to batch scan, which saves you some time.

Step 2

Set your scanning software to a high resolution. The default usually starts between 200 pixels per inch and 300 ppi. Because these are small images, set the resolution higher, to at least 600 ppi or more, to get more digital data to work with in your digital images. Scan your Polaroid pictures and save them in TIFF format.

Step 3

Open the batch image scan file in your photo editing software and cut the images apart, saving each one under a separate name, all in TIFF format. Then choose your first image to work on.

Step 4

Use “Levels” to adjust the lights and darks in your image. This appears in various places depending upon your software, but it usually will be under “Image Adjustments.” One of the two biggest problems with old Polaroid pictures is the flatness, meaning they tend not to have a wide range of light to dark. “Levels” will fix this. You can try “Auto Levels” if your editing software has it, but it may take the image to unpleasant extremes. You want dark blacks and bright whites in your images.

Step 5

Fix the color. The second biggest problem with Polaroids is their tendency to fade yellow or green over the years. Start with “Auto Color” if you have it, but you may need to go to specific color controls, such as “Curves” or “Color Balance.” The key is to counteract the yellow or green tint of the aged photos.

Step 6

Sharpen your images. If you have “Unsharp Mask,” use this because it provides selecting sharpening with specific controls. Watch the preview image while you adjust the controls to get the proper amount of sharpness without going too far.

Step 7

Resize your image to conform to current print formats. The shape of most Polaroid photos is near square, so you may have some white area on your prints. Adjust the “Width” and “Height” of your image according to your print size. Adjust your “Resolution” at 300 ppi for prints or 72 ppi for the Web. Save a copy of your image under another name and print.