Photo Enhancement & Creative Imagery


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What goes into a restoration?

Posted on January 24, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Did you ever wonder what goes into restoring a photo? 

Watch how this too-dark snapshot was transformed!

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Why Digital

Posted on July 17, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Before Photoshop, changes were made directly on photos and negatives.  Chemicals, inks, paints, airbrushes and small paint brushes were often used.  Manipulating photos was a skilled craft using artist tools and darkroom tricks of the trade.  Retouching was commonly thought of as "airbrushing" as images were usually edited and enhanced with thin layers of paint.  And, it wasn't that long ago!

With digital restoration and retouching your original photo, most often your only copy, remains intact and untouched.  After creating a high resolution scan, all work is done non-destructivly on a digital file allowing unlimited options for enhancement or repair.  Digital changes can ALWAYS be reversed or adjusted.  Can you imagine if they couldn't?

Note:  Even with careful conservation, your photos will continue to deteriorate over time.  Digital files are a great way to share and safeguard your memories for future generations. I recommend digitally archiving ALL your photographs, preserving your originals, using local services (after verifying your collection remains onsite and isn't shipped overseas).  They won't worsen and are easily organized, labeled and ready for repair if needed.

* Image from unknown original source on Pinterest shows extreme humorous before and after airbrushed photo from an episode of NBC's sitcom Seinfeld.  Used without permission through fair use as a related pop culture reference.

No To Just Copy and Flip - The Jacket

Posted on June 14, 2015 at 12:45 AM

One of the most widely used tricks in repairing portraits is the copy and flip.  Missing an eye, part of the mouth, an arm or a leg?  Just copy the good side and flip it to use on the other side - easy peasy!  Um...No. 

Unfortunately, people are NOT purely symetrical.  Do you stand with your arms and legs a mirror image of the other?  Are your eyes exactly the same?  Are your ears identical?  No, of course not.  Many how-to videos and tutorials utilize this trick, sometimes for no reason, the outcome looking unrealistic and somewhat off.  I've even seen the subject ending up cross eyed!  I recently saw a video where this technique was used on a jacket (again, let me stress for NO reason as the slight damage could have easily been repaired) with perfectly symetrical lapels, shoulders, collar, none of which lined up with the original photo!  Using an extreme example, I'll show you why this needs to be used smartly, in portions, always modified and never as a final result.

Here's a restoration where the client wished to remove an unknown woman from the only picture, a small photo booth one, he had of his grandfather as a young man.  First I enlarged the image and then cropped it into a standard 5 x 7 size focusing on his head and shoulders.  Then I made my repairs.  The background is somewhat abstract, so borrowing from other sections and blending them together I was able to cover up the woman.  So far so good.  Now to the more difficult part, where her body was in front of the plaid jacket.  Obviously something needs to happen there.

So, what happens when you copy and flip?  Well, it looks kind of strange.  Even moving the shoulder down to line up with the original slope still isn't believable.  Who has creases occuring in the same places on their clothes?  Not to mention the plaid is going in the opposite direction.  There's a tool in Photoshop that will allow you to warp, but this one solid piece has too much going on.

In order to create the new portion of the jacket below, I copied several different sections and warped, manipulated, faded and blended them all together to create a background, even using portions of the jacket that I had already cropped out.  The lapel for the right side was a copy of the left, but altered to line up with the original photo, have a different slope, be thinner and angled away and then placed on top.  To finish it off, the original shadowing was built up and blended. 

The end result?  You don't even notice it.


Reconstructing A Photo With What's Left

Posted on February 23, 2015 at 2:10 PM

Photos having sentimental value are high on the list of ones that should be repaired and restored.  The image shown below (or rather what was left of it) meant a lot to the client and her family even though she had other photos of her father that were in better shape.  At first glance I was a little concerned, but upon closer inspection, I realized it was a basic outdoor park scene without any specific or recognizable landmarks, and that most of the main subject was still there. 

I considered using a scenic background from another source, but then decided to try to adapt the trees, the sky and the grass that already existed.  Portions of these were copied, manipulated to look slightly different, and then pieced together to create and fill in, while trying to avoid any tell-tale repetitions.  I did need to "borrow" the foreground grass from another photo in order to center the portrait a little bit better.  After careful blending the result was a believable background that combined with the original fragment to create a 5 x 7 frame-worthy photo.  The client loved it!

Changing Relationship History - Removing People

Posted on November 25, 2014 at 10:05 PM

There's an (over) abundance of photographs all over the internet that have been altered to remove an unwanted person.  Some results are good, you would never even know they had been in the picture in the first place.  BUT some "fixes" end up badly composed with odd arrangements.  For example, take the following reenactments below based on actual "retouching" as seen on the web:


Prom Date Before and After:


It's clear there's something missing in the "restored" version.  Who says the photo has to remain the original dimensions and size?  Why have prom guy all by his lonesome off to the side when you can just crop the date out and turn it into a portrait?  Now the big question, why does mom not like her? 


Wedding Party Before:



Wedding Party After:



If this one's absolutely necessary (and who am I to judge the removal of a bride in an obvious wedding portrait?), I would think that eliminating the negative space by bringing the other people closer together would have been a help.  How about making separate, smaller pictures instead? 

Of course, there are photos that benefit from extracting someone.  Maybe it's unflattering, it could be only a portion of the person, or you might want to feature the other as more of a formal portrait.  The trick is to create a finished picture that doesn't look obviously tampered with or leave the viewer with unanswered questions.

Removing a person and recreating the background isn't cheap or quick, especially if it's done right.  In many of the samples, the backgrounds didn't line up and some were left with weird spotting.  When having retouching done, it's important to think about all available options and know that you're not limited to the restrains of the original photograph.