…exploring the ins and outs of photography

Preservation Week: Restoring Family Photos

April 26-May 2 is Preservation week and a time to learn about preserving our personal collections of old photographs. Preserving memories is my way of giving thanks to the ones who came before me; none of us would be here today without their sacrifice. A nod to my ancestors in their native language. Takk skal du ha. August and Julia were born in Norway. They each immigrated to the US where they met and married, which led to a whole passel of descendents.

An instant message from a good friend renewed my interest in restoring photos.  According to the definition from Wikipedia, “digital photograph restoration uses a variety of image editing techniques to remove visible damage and aging effects from digital copies of physical photographs.” Yep. That about sums it up but it is a very simple statement about what can be a lengthy and arduous process.

After restoration: August Hansen & Julia Paulsen

For example, I spent the better part of a day working on the slightly damaged wedding photo of my great-grandparents and I plan to spend more time removing the small dust spots and scratches. As you can see, I also extended the size of the image using Photoshop and content-aware fill.

B&W original

I began by making two (black & white) scans of the original image. The first right-side up and the second upside down. I converted the image to black and white, because that helps me “see” the details better. Bringing both scan into Photoshop as layers, I rotated one so that each was right-side up and then blended the layers. Then I use LIghtroom to make some adjustments to contrast, clarity, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks and using the graduated filter tool to darken edges. Then, I opened the image in Photoshop. Next steps included using the patch tool and spot healing brush to remove spots and repair larger areas. I also copied August’s left lapel to use for replacing parts of the right one.

The original composition felt too cramped. I wanted the couple more in the center with more space above their heads. I changed the canvas size and used the content-aware fill for the top and right side. Next, I copied the vase and side table beside August and pasted it beside Julia. A little more masking and blending helped with making the added areas look more like part of the original. Not perfect by any means, but I am not certain perfect is a realistic expectation when restoring old photos.

After restoration- final image