Saturday, 16 August 2008

Sources of advice on restoring old photographs

Every now and again I get asked to copy an old family photograph, which usually involves restoring it as well. Although there is a lot of useful information and tutorials on-line to help I find that since I do not do these restorations very often I find it easy to forget what worked last time and where I found the methods in the first place. In this posting I recommend a couple of books that have helped me immeasurably when I need it.

Typically what happens is that I am given an old print or seven and asked to “just make a couple of copies” of them. They are usually faded and spotted with damp, mould or tarnish, as well as being a bit care worn with folds, rips and holes. There is often an unfaded line where the frame held them and colour photos are usually not only faded but also colour shifted. On top of all that the paper they are printed on originally is often textured, which a decent scanner will pick up beautifully, making the whole image look very unhealthy (see a 100% crop from a typical sample below).

I usually scan them into Photoshop using an Epson Perfection 3200 Photo scanner, which produces a pretty good starting point.

But what to do with them?

As I said earlier there is a lot of really good advice and tutorials on-line and in magazine articles, but I want to be able to remember what I did and find solutions to new problems efficiently (no two projects have the same problems and solutions). So I have resorted to the old fashioned method of buying books on the subject – this means that I can easily find what I want quickly and know where to find the methods that worked for me the last time.

The one technique I use on nearly all scans is to use the “Dust & Scratches” filter with the history brush to remove all the little specks and flecks that were both in the original and on the scan.

I have settled on having two books as my source for most restorations. They cover similar areas of the topic, but have quite different approaches.

Firstly I use Katrin Eismann’s book “Adobe Photoshop Restoration and Retouching (Voices That Matter)” – full details can be found on Amazon but clicking the icon below.

The second is Ctein’s book “Digital Restoration From Start to Finish: How to repair old and damaged photographs” – full details can be found on Amazon but clicking the icon below.

While Eismann and Ctein cover the same sort of restoration ground they have different preferences. Eismann prefers to use masks (not too surprising as she wrote what many regard as the definitive book on masking – “Photoshop Masking & Compositing (Voices That Matter)”), whereas Ctein mostly avoids using masks in favour of using radical moves with curves.

Personally I find Eismann’s way easier to replicate, but at times I can only get a decent result using Ctein’s methods.

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