HomeMaking Of A Family Painting From A 100 Year Old Photo: Reviving The Past

Making of a Family Painting from a 100 Year Old Photo: Reviving the Past

Posted on 18 October, 2023

Making of a Family Painting from a 100 Year Old Photo: Reviving the Past


At Paintphotographs, we specialize in creating beautiful hand-painted portraits from clients' reference photos. Recently we created a family painting from a 100 year old photo. Join us in this blog post as we document the making of an elegant memorial portrait painting from a  century-old photo


At Paintphotographs, we specialize in creating beautiful hand-painted portraits from clients' reference photos. We recreated a family painting from an old photo, an exciting commission we received recently. The family photo in question was over 100 years old. Unfortunately, it was also in poor condition after decades of aging. The black and white image was blurry and damaged in areas, and the old photo was fragile with age. A beautiful family portrait painting of their grandparents was the client's request, using the old photo as a reference, which they can proudly display. This was one of the most challenging projects we had undertaken. We were eager to meticulously restore the image and depict the subject as accurately as possible on canvas. Join us in this blog post as we document the making of an elegant memorial portrait painting from a  century-old photo

Receiving and Assessing the Old Photo for Making the Family Painting

When our client first shared the old photo digitally over email and WhatsApp, we were eager to get started on the family painting. However, we knew, from past experience, that a careful assessment of the old photo would be crucial before beginning the process of making the family painting. We carefully examined the softcopy of the old photo on our computer to identify any issues and challenges.

The century-old photo exhibited visible signs of aging and damage, even in digital form. Despite being black and white image, signs of aging and damage were visible. With age, the back-and-white picture had become a sepia-toned photo. The image itself was blurred and lacked sharpness due to old camera limitations. More importantly from a portrait painter's point of view, the facial features lacked delineation and sharpness.

100 year old family photo of an old Indian man and his wife , paintphotographs100 year old family photo of an old Indian man and his wife (Image Credits: Paintphotographs)


There were also damaged areas visible - digital cracks, and blurred or missing details - where portions of the original photo appeared to be lost. These missing pieces would need to be filled in digitally before making the family portrait painting from old photo.

It was clear from the softcopy that extensive photo restoration would be needed to repair the damage and prepare a clear reference image. We were up for the challenge! Next, we moved on to digitally restoring the old photo using editing software prior to beginning the painting process.

Photo Restoration of reference image to make the painting


Since we had received the original photo as a digital file from the client, we could begin the restoration process without scanning. We imported the old photo file into our photo editing software to start the work.

Our first steps were adjusting the brightness, and contrast to compensate for the considerable fading visible in the softcopy. We carefully boosted the contrast to reveal more definition in the blurry facial features.

Next, we used the software's retouching tools to repair damaged and missing areas that were visible in the digital photo. The cloning tool proved invaluable for sampling intact portions of the image and blending them into the damaged spots.

Finally, we sharpened details throughout the image to bring out fine facial features that the aging of the original physical photo had dulled. 

After hours of restoration work, we had a clear, restored digital version ready to provide a strong reference for the painting process. We shared the digitally restored version of the image with the client to check the accuracy and feel of the image. The client was happy with the digital preview of the restoration and assured that the restored image was accurate. Next, we moved on to the painting itself, prepping the canvas and beginning the process of recreating the family portrait painting by hand.

Preparing the Canvas to make the family painting from Photo


The next crucial step was preparing the canvas for a photorealistic painted rendition of the family painting. Photorealism is the art of making a painting from photo. We needed to carefully recreate the couple painting of the grandparents on canvas from the restored reference image.  

We offer many convenient portrait painting sizes at affordable price points. Having consulted with the client on the desired finished size of the painting, we prepared a fine art canvas of the appropriate dimensions. The canvas orientation precisely matched the original photo.

We then used the grid method of sketching on the canvas. For this, the restored image was divided into grids. In the same proportion, the canvas was also divided into grids. This allowed us to meticulously sketch out the overall portrait, carefully matching up facial features and proportions with precision grid by grid. The grid would serve as a guide as we progressed through the painting.

oil portrait painting from photo of an old manOil portrait painting from photo of Grandfather (Image Source: Paintphotographs.com)


With the sketch complete, we began the photorealistic painting process, starting with broad base layers of underpainting. We continually cross-referenced the reference photo as we matched colors and built up painstaking detail.

The grid overlay helped ensure the correct placement and proportion of every facial and body feature. We also used a process called sight-size, standing the same distance from the canvas as the photo to accurately judge proportions.

It was a long and meticulous photorealistic process, but necessary for capturing every nuance and bringing the digital photo reference into the realm of a precisely matched painted portrait.

Painting the Family Portrait from Photo


With the canvas prepped, it was time for the longest and most meticulous stage - bringing the subject to life through paint. We began by mixing a wide palette of oil paints, carefully matching the colors to the restored photo reference.

We started with broad strokes, laying in the overall skin tones and background colors. We continually tweaked the mixing ratios as we fine-tuned the color matching.

Once the underpainting was complete, we moved on to the time-intensive process of detailing. Using tiny brushes, we built up the forms and features, constantly cross-checking proportions and colors against the restored old photo, as renowned portrait painter John Singer Sargent once explained in his secret portrait painting techniques

oil portrait painting on canvas of an old lady from old photo Oil portrait painting from photo of Grandfather (Image Source: Paintphotographs.com) 


It was a game of fractions - precisely translating every detail like the exact contours of eyes, lips, and nose from photo to canvas. The family painting became a pixel-by-pixel recreation.

Every nuance of light and shadow, skin texture, hair, and clothing details were meticulously rendered to achieve an exact likeness. It required intense focus and care over many hours.

Throughout the process, we had the restored old photo beside the canvas so every brushstroke could be verified. Our goal was to recreate the subject as faithfully as humanly possible as a lasting painted tribute.

After weeks of work, the subject's inner spirit shone through on canvas just as it did in the aged photograph that inspired this effort.

Finishing Touches to the Family Painting from Photo


Once every painstaking detail was painted, it was time for the final touches to complete the portrait. Meticulous blending was crucial to marrying the thousands of brushstrokes into a cohesive whole.

We carefully smoothed transitions between colors, blending skin tones and background gradients for a natural, seamless look true to life.

Final detailing was done with the thinnest brushes, perfecting the nuances of eyes, lips, hair, and other fine features. We stepped back frequently to judge edges and shapes from a proper viewing distance.


handmade oil painting of dadaji and dadiji sitting in of sofaHandmade oil painting of Dadaji (Grandfather) & Dadiji (Grandmother) Sitting on a sofa (Image Source: Paintphotographs.com)


As we neared completion, keeping an era-appropriate painterly style became important. We referenced brushwork from turn-of-the-century portrait paintings, like the portrait paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, AH Müller, MV Dhurandhar, and others emulating those expressive strokes in the clothing, hair, and background.

After allowing adequate drying time, we applied protective layers suited for oil paints. This brought renewed vibrancy while sealing the painting.

Revealing the Final Family Painting from Photo


After weeks of meticulous restoration and painting work, it was time to digitally reveal the finished portrait to the eager client. At Paintphotographs we always take the approval of the client before shipping the painting to him. We carefully photographed the completed family painting and sent the images via WhatsApp for their initial reaction. It was an anxious moment waiting to hear their response.

client appreciation and testimonial received on Whatapp screenshot

Client Appreciation and testimonial received on WhatsApp screenshot (Image Source: Paintphotographs.com) 


Soon delighted messages came flooding in. The client was incredibly excited and praised the "phenomenal" painted results we had achieved. They were astonished by how we brought the old faded black and white photograph back to vivid colorful life in the painting.

Seeing their ancestor's likeness portrayed in classic painted style made the client feel an emotional connection across the decades. Over WhatsApp, they excitedly made plans to proudly display this family treasure in their home.

With approval received from the client, we carefully packaged it for delivery to our delighted client.

The testimonial they wrote for us on our Google reviews page was astonishingly gratifying. 


“Thankyou for recreating more than 100 year old potrait of my great grandparents. The way you’ll have imagined elements which werent that clear is phenomenal. Fabulous Details and Loved how the final potrait paint has turned out to be. Thankyou for all the efforts and brainstorming discussions throughout the process.” 

You can read the full review on our Google reviews page https://g.co/kgs/cs6EM6 


client review on google reviews page of Paintphotographs, client appreciation, testimonial, Delighted 5 Star Customer Review on Google reviews page of Paintphotographs (Image Source: Paintphotographs.com) 


The client's enthusiasm and appreciation were incredibly heartwarming and made all the long hours worthwhile. We always feel privileged to breathe new life into cherished images through our paintings, but it's especially rewarding to see how much this painting impacted the client. Their ancestor's faded glimpse can now be appreciated anew and passed down for generations to come.

Limitations of Using a Reference Photo for a Painting


While making the family painting from photo, we kept in mind that the photo was only a jumping point for making the painting. As artist Mark Haworth put it, "The camera cannot see like the eye can when it comes to color accuracy, depth of field, and the warms and cools of highlights and shadows. There’s a lot of distortion that comes along with photographs." Pastel artist and instructor Denise LaRue Mahlke shares a similar sentiment, stating, "Following a photo to a ‘T’ is a big mistake, because the camera lies. Photos can be indispensable as a jumping-off point, but even if the photo is an excellent one, you want to reinvent the scene for a painting to work."

framed memorial oil painting of grandmother and grand father

Framed Memorial Family Painting of Grandmother & Grandfather (Image Source: Paintphotographs.com)


In the restored reference image we were working with our client said, he remembered his grandfather always used to carry a walking stick. But in the reference image, we could not see a walking stick. It intuitively made sense that an old man of his age would likely carry a walking stick with him. So when we were making the family painting, we added walking in his hands and resting on his legs. This small embellishment greatly enhanced the authenticity of the family painting. The client was very pleased with the effect, as the image of his grandfather with his walking stick greatly resonated with his recollections and memories of him. 



In closing, this project exemplified the meticulous process we undertake to restore and recreate treasured family photographs as timeless painted heirlooms.

What began as a severely damaged, faded original photo over a century old was painstakingly transformed and finally brought to life on canvas through devoted brushwork.

The entire process required many hours of careful effort - assessing and repairing the original, preparing the canvas, matching colors, capturing details, and perfecting realistic style. But it was all worthwhile to revive this family's priceless glimpse into their past.

Now, with this photo reimagined in masterfully painted form, the subjects can once again beam with vivid vitality as their descendants connect with their own history. The client will cherish this painting for generations to come.

Though challenging, projects like these are immensely rewarding. We consider it a privilege to collaborate so closely with clients to restore their most precious photographic memories through timeless painted artwork they can proudly display and pass down.


If you wish to order a custom handmade oil portrait painting or an oil painting you can visit our order now page. Custom handmade oil portrait paintings make for memorable gifts like a wedding portrait painting or an engagement portrait or birthday portrait painting or a housewarming gift. And commemorative, like memorial portrait painting. Our talented artists can also create composite oil painting portraits from two or more reference photos and pics. Similarly, we can also create pet portrait paintings or create new portrait paintings from blurry old black-and-white photos.

To know the prices of our portrait paintings you can visit our pricing page. To see our work on portrait paintings you can visit our gallery pages. To connect with us ping us on our chat messenger on the website or ping us on Whatsapp or call us at 918291070650 or drop us an email at  support@paintphotographs.com 

If you are an art aficionado and interested to write a guest post for us, connect with us. 

Thank you for reading. You may also enjoy our other pieces. Subscribe to us and get notified when new pieces are published. 

Recommended Pieces 

The Ultimate Engagement Gift Guide: Portrait Paintings for Every Couple | Paintphotographs 

Farewell gifts for Seniors, Colleagues and Friends: Handmade Portraits | Paintphotographs 

Memorial Paintings - The Ultimate Guide to Commissioning one | Paintphotographs 

A brief history of oil painting technique | Paintphotographs 

How to get the perfect pet portrait painting: The Ultimate Pet Lover's guide! | Paintphotographs 

How to Commission a Wedding Portrait Painting Online | Paintphotographs  

The life and paintings of artist and painter KCS Paniker | Paintphotographs 

Why is the Monalisa so famous? Monalisa's portrait painting history | Paintphotographs

How to choose the best size for your portrait painting and wall art: A guide | Paintphotographs 

Oil Portraits and Digital Paintings: What is the difference? | Paintphotographs 

The paintings in John Wick Chapter 4 | Paintphotographs



This piece was contributed by Sougata Ghosh: If curiosity were currency, he'd be penniless! With interests spanning art, history, economics, technology, and investing. He's like a kid in a candy store, but don't expect brilliance. Check him out on LinkedIn and Academia.edu.

painting from photo family painting from photo old photo to painting memorial painting