The Art of Photographic Restoration

The Art of Photographic Restoration

When AHA! began their inquiry into the healing potential of restored heritage photos, it had not registered with us that a year earlier, the heritage photos in the book celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Highland Games (Danny Gillis, 2013), had been restored. Kathy Gillis’ photographic restoration of “In the Shadow of the Big Elm” photo, circa 1922, became a guiding beacon and solid justification for restoration of our old photos. Only through her painstaking restoration was the Highland Society able to identify the piper as Angus “The Ridge” MacDonald of Loch Katrine. He was the official piper for the Highland Games. What was just “mush” became the Big Elm so restoration gave new life to people and trees. Scott Williams compared restored photo to photo of official piper, favourably. Also Minutes of AHS might be able to identify more people on the platform.

Click on the 2 photos to see details of BEFORE and AFTER restoration

Art photo restore - elms BEFORE

Photo before restoration

Photo after restoration

Photo after restoration

Anne Louise MacDonald summarized the restoration process that Antigonish Photographers Exhibit (APx) used, and all agreed that this was an accurate representation. Joe Frazer, Jeff Parker, Wayne Ezekiel, Betty Cameron

Historic photographs are scanned at a high resolution (1200 dpi) to capture as much information as available. Repair work is sympathetic to the original image. Altering the original information is avoided though sometimes, where the old chemical and paper processing gave soft-focused and high contrast results, details can be digitally enhanced.

Each photograph is generally treated with the similar procedures. If there is substantial discoloration, especially if the image has variable staining or yellowing, the photo is transformed to full black and white. When the restoration work is complete, the image is often returned a light shade of yellow or sepia appropriate for the period and type of photo.

The next step is removing dust, scratches, fingerprints, tears, folds, etc. This is the most time consuming part of restoration work. The manual clone tool and the more automatic brushes that sample content near the flaws make the work straight forward but meticulous, especially when there are people’s faces with significant damage. An artistic eye is sometimes necessary to interpret and separate damage from original data.

Old photographic papers are often degraded, giving a distracting amount of speckling, lining and texture when the image is blown up. This is removed with filters that average out small flaws or “noise.” Best results are achieved when a pixel size and radius of repair can be assigned to each image or section of image to remove only the fine artifacts of the texture and not soften or lose image detail.

When most of the repair is done, the light levels in the image are adjusted to achieve a realistic appearance. Modern digital software provides a large range of tonal values, so details in the shadows can be brought out and information in overblown areas multiplied and darkened, often allowing the restorer to produce a better result than seen by the photo’s maker.

Finally a high resolution review of the whole image is done to find any missed damage enhanced by the tone level changes, and the photo is saved to a large size 300 dpi file ready for printing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *