During the past few weeks I have worked on several projects that involve restoring damaged photographs to keep a bit of history for future generations. One project was putting together my ancestry through family photos borrowed from relatives as well as images I have taken over the past forty-three years, all dutifully restored. Another project was reconnecting with old Army buddies through Facebook, sharing memories and restored images from over thirty-five years ago.
In 1987 I started doing photo restoration using film in my full color darkroom. Dodging and burning techniques were utilized during the exposure of the photographic paper to manipulate the final image. Color balance was trial and error using a composition notebook to record each adjustment of the enlarger’s color wheels. The final result was not clear until the print development was complete. Scratches and color was touched up using pigmented photo oils. The results were often less than ideal but the skills and concepts learned from manual print processing are still valid today.
Fast forward to 2011. Now my photo restoration process involves using the technical skills learned in college, including a good understanding of color theory, utilizing Photoshop CS5, as well as a professional scanner with dual lens high pass optics, a Wacom Cintiq editing monitor and a HP Dreamcolor (RGB LED backlit) monitor for color accuracy. I scan the negatives at 6400 dpi optical resolution and 48 bit color. This makes each image file around 250 megabytes. Some take more than an hour each to scan, remove scratches, stains, straightening out the crooked ones, filing in blank areas caused by rotating the photo one or degrees by cloning the adjacent pixels. Then each image goes through a manual color correction process before resizing and sharpening to display on Facebook. For prints I use the original file before reducing, sending a 16 bit file to an archival pigment based inkjet printer for maximum print quality. I use a similar process for photos but a resolution of at least 600 dpi depending on the size of the original. While we can do great things in today’s digital world, fixing damage caused by physical forces of weather, paper rips or holes, water stains, fading dyes caused by oxidation or exposure to sunlight, the final image is still very dependent on the quality of the original.
Working with just a digital image is the easiest restoration. It often only involves selective color balancing as in this example:
A tougher restoration is converting a slide or negative with a underexposure problem to a color corrected digital copy. In the following example, the sky and ground were processed as separate images or layers and then sandwiched back together.
Even more difficult is restoring old, faded, torn, spotted and water damaged photos as you will see in the following examples.
I can also print the restored image up to 17″ x 22″ or longer depending on the image, with custom matting and framing done in my shop. The following image I printed on canvas and mounted in a period oval frame with domed glass.
The digital age has provided photographers new tools to do what was once unimaginable, using intelligent cloning with pattern detection to remove and replace distracting elements in a photograph.
If you have thought about throwing away family photos damaged from recent flooding, please consider my photo restoration service.
To see my restored Army photos, click on this link 427th Med Company (AMB), Ft Rucker, Alabama (1975-1978).