Anatomy of a Restoration

Image restoration is a task that has been made easier in some ways with digital tools but even though it may be easier, it’s still not a 5 minute exercise as some may want to lead you to believe.  In a past article I discussed the process of recreating a photo of a mural that had been damaged.  That project took about 9 hours of editing time to complete.

Recently, a glass plate negative came to me for evaluation.  It appears as though it had been taken during World War II.  My guess is the soldiers are either British or Canadian.  Just looking at the plate there were a few obvious scratches in the emulsion but it didn’t lookthat bad.  I put it on the scanner and only after seeing the scan did the real work ahead become clearer.  It was only after looking at the scan and seeing the image at 100% magnification that the many small nicks and scratches became visible.  These wouldn’t show up on a computer screen but definitely would show in a print.

Below is the original, unretouched scan.

Unretouched scan, click for larger version

The finished image is next.  This is after all the retouching, contrast adjustment and sharpening.  The image was flipped because I scanned it with the emulsion side down so it was in reverse orientation.

Finished restoration, click for larger version

All told, this took about 8 to 9 hours of work.  What did you might ask?  This next image will tell the tale.  I did all of the retouching on a separate layer.  I call it the ‘repair map’.

‘Repair Map’, click for larger version

As you can see, while it didn’t look like it initially, this plate had significant damage that had to be repaired, some of it having to be recreated from scratch (pardon the pun).  Image restoration is a rewarding, albeit sometimes quite time consuming, and worthwhile task if the photos are important to you or are historically significant.  But you shouldn’t expect that your restorer is going to be able to magically press a couple of buttons and presto-changeo, your image is restored to its former glory.

Do you have images that need restoration?  I’d be happy to speak with you about the project.  You can contact me via email at photog(at)rf-photography(dot)ca or phone on 289-240-0949.

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