An alternative to physical restoration can be digital restoration which gives the opportunity to leave the original alone as the digital image is edited. Most photo software can enhance and restore almost all problems with an image. Add a trained eye with attention to detail and any image can be improved. Here is an example of a recent digital restoration and the steps taken to remove the dust, tears, stained, and discoloration.
The first thing to do when beginning a digital restoration project is to take a new digital copy of the image. This needs to be as close to the original as possible. Ideally, the image should be placed on a flatbed scanner and scanned at a high resolution for best results. In some cases, the image might be trapped behind glass or too large to fit on a regular scanner, which then a photograph can suffice. Make sure there are no glares or shadows on the image as these will still need to be removed digitally, so avoiding them in the first place saves time. In the case of this example, removing the dust on the image prior to fixing the image removed texture and made the image clearer.
A place to start restoration is altering the contrast of the image to bring out detail otherwise hidden depending on the age of the photograph. This can also make the image clearer and sharper if discoloration and fading has occurred. Changing the saturation to black and white can make editing easier, but only when applied to black and white images. Newer color photographs need to stay in color since they affect the finished piece and need to be considered throughout the process. In the case of this example, the color was added after development, which was then added back digitally after fixing the tears and stains in black and white.
The next step involves fixing the scratches, specks, and tears in a piece, which takes time. Each part of the image is carefully scrutinized to find all abnormalities. Less can be more when editing as removing too much can drastically change the original image. If possible, having the original available for reference helps protect what might look like a tear, but is actually something in the image instead.
Damage to facial features or large torn areas are the most difficult because the image must be carefully recreated. Faces are easily recognizable and poor edits are easier to see in these areas. A difficult restoration can take hours. For example, this restoration took over five hours as the girl on the far right needed to be recreated. Her arm and thigh had been torn off. By copying other sections of her outfit, the missing areas were replaced. Ideally, the torn part of the photograph would have been available and added, but that was not the case for this project.
After the image was restored, a colored version was created to match the digital as close as possible to the original. This involved adding a transparent layer of pink to their cheeks and coloring the boys’ jackets blue and the ties green. Now this image can be shared, copied, and reprinted as much as necessary while the original is safely preserved elsewhere. Digital restoration is not the same as physically restoring an item, but it can be a safe and easy option.
For any of your own projects you would like restored, you can contact the Bonfoey Gallery at email@example.com or (216) 621-0178.