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When Restoring A Photo – It’s Also A Family Memoir I’m Restoring

January 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Restoring a family heirloom.

I perform a lot of photo restorations, scanning of old prints, negatives, slides & artwork, which can reprinted or saved to CD for archival. I also provide archival fine art printing with real photographic papers and only Pigment inks. Our prints are not only beautiful, they are rated to last anywhere from 100 – 150 years without degradation in quality, whereas, most prints from those “drug stores, office supply stores and/or Costco/Kinkos” types of places  are rated for only 5 -7 years.
For my latest and largest project to date, I just finished restoring and printing a large 15″ x 50″ panoramic for a customer just in time for a surprise Christmas present.
The original came to me as three B&W photos of the small village of Seldovia, Alaska, taken in 1966. The original prints were glued down, side-by-side onto a section of 1/8″ fiberboard cut to fit the 15”x50” of the three images.
After 45 years, the three individual photos were still attached to the fiberboard, but now had a lot of water damage, bubbling where the glue had let go, curling up in the corners, with a few creases, many fingerprints and general overall aged condition, but overall… I’ve seen, and restored worse.

This was a treasured family photo, so I had my work cut out for me.
I could not remove the photos from the fiberboard without causing more damage to them, so I scanned the large piece as a whole. I’ve got a high-resolution flatbed scanner, but even then it still took 14 scans, and some tricky supports to keep everything flat and motionless to capture this whole image.

On images that require this much work to restore, I always divide the restoration up into sections and stages, as well as many multiple layers in Photoshop. Working slowly on each individual section before moving on to the next. That way, if I have one section of the image that starts to give me fits, and the restoration just isn’t happening, I’ve got a “backdoor” to backup to and restart/rethink to approach that area without losing all the other work I’ve done in other areas.

Many sections may take several different techniques to restore an image like this, which is where the multiple Layers, Adjustment Layers, Layer Masks and Layer Blends, with variations of Healing, Sampling, Cloning, Painting & some secret tricks I’ve acquired over the years really come into play. Having a Wacom Intuos Tablet, with it’s electronic pen instead of using a mouse, makes the work so much easier too. Actually, most of this work would be next to impossible to do accurately with a regular mouse.

You’ll see in the Before/After image, that the bottom image is right after I assembled all the scans back together, before doing any restoration work, giving you a sample of the damage and how the 3 photos were joined. At least here, due to the photos being pressed flat during the scan, the edges aren’t curled up.

The top photo shows the completed image that I printed onto archival semi-gloss paper and then sent off to a frame shop to have mounted to 1/2” beveled MDF for a very unique way, and much more economical than standard framing, to show off this image.

Though most of my work is with local customers, I have done a lot work via the mail too. You can mail your original photo, slide or negative to me, I’ll carefully scan it, restore the digital version and send the new print, along with a CD of both files and your original back to you.

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