In today's digital world, photo printing seems like a throw-away subject. People tend to overlook it because, what's the big deal, right? Well, I say it is a big deal. In fact, I would argue that attention to this detail is as important as it was in the early ages of photography.
The picture shown here of the brother and sister, who are all grown up now, likely with grandchildren and great grandchildren, was special for a moment when it was taken. Because it was special, it was printed in a nice quality paper, presented in a paper photo sleeve, and for years was displayed in a frame for all to see. Then it was moved to a drawer, then a box, a closet, then a basement. Now, it comes into light again as being something special because this was a mom, an uncle. The toys she holds, the dress she wears, his suit and hairstyle each depict an era, a lifestyle, an economic bracket, lives that will never be quite that simple again. It also shines a light on all that has happened since then but isn't even in the picture - loves found, loves lost, marriages, children, jobs....you get the idea. The point - this isn't just some random pic of someone's cheeseburger. It shouldn't be tossed into a pile or digital dump like a snap of a silly moment that has outlived its value and emotion. If we look at this photo with respect, it's obvious that it shouldn't be printed on the cheapest, fastest, who-really-cares-it'll-be-tossed-in-a-drawer-anyway paper.
This image is soft in tones and detail. There's some warmth to it emotionally and tonally. If we want to keep the slight sepia warm tone, we won't want to use a true black and white photo paper. Since we want it to remain soft, we don't want to use a pearlescent metallic paper. Color intensity and range aren't critical in this case either, so the other papers that do that brilliantly aren't quite right, either. No. Instead, we are going to use a deep matte finish photo paper that will maintain the softness in the reflected light and overall finish feel yet provide visual clarity. If we want some texture, we might chose linen to give it an aged feel and affect the way the light moves across it. Any and all of this paper selection is subjective to the desired look the owner wants to achieve. But while the "should's" and "should not's" may be flexible, they are too important not to consider.
Next, we want it to last. To achieve that we'll use archival paper, frame it with UV protective glass and/or store it in archival quality sleeve or box. The word "archival" triggers ideas of very expensive and hard to find, but that's not the case. "Archival" photo products are made so that they don't emit harmful gasses that erode the photo emulsion or the paper. Some glues in wood-based products like boxes, tissue paper(s), envelopes, etc. have acids that will break down the image and the paper over time. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun also discolors prints and can break them down, so using UV glass when framing protects the image. Photos shouldn't be hung in areas where the sun shines directly on them, but that can be unavoidable at times, so protective glass and quality framing materials will help preserve the displayed photograph.
All of the photo prints ordered through me are printed on archival paper, reproduced in a multitude of ways on archival quality products, such as books, boxes, boards, canvas, glass, metal, and more - all of which I am happy to help you choose from for your project. Archival quality storage boxes, papers, and sleeves can easily be purchased online and in many photo supply outlets, and UV glass and archival quality frames can be found at framing centers and online.
In the end, the paper matters because the photo matters.
One of the biggest struggles for photo restoration projects is one that is in plain sight but often can't be seen with the naked eye, covers the entire photo, and can be daunting to remove - you guessed it...paper texture. Like the boogeyman who lurks in the shadows but can't be seen until light shines on him, and then you don't know how to escape his presence without total annihilation, such is the restoration artist's nightmare with photo paper texture.
In and of itself, photo paper texture isn't a bad thing. It definitely adds to the literal feel of a photograph as well as the way light bounces off of it, which can add a softness or starkness, can deepen shadows, saturate colors, and make highlights brilliant. Photo paper may not be something the average consumer even thinks much about in our digital world, but when it comes to displaying and preserving an image, the paper on which it is printed is very important. When it comes to restoration work, oftentimes there isn't a negative available to work from, so replication of the photo from a print is the only option.
So, what's the big deal? Just throw a little Photoshop blur on it and away goes the "dust and speckles", the "noise", the honeycombing, linen lines, and hair-like fibers, right? If only. But no. It isn't that simple. If I add enough blur or reduce enough noise in either of the images above to remove the patterning, I will also destroy the details in the eyes, hair, clothing, and everything else. That's not an option. Those are the things we are trying to preserve, after all.
But, we also can't go in and work on every single honeycomb line and every single fiber line. So, to make it work, like with all great things, we must find a balance. There must be a little give and a little take, a little blur here, a little smudge there, but not over here and not over there. With the honeycomb pattern, in particular, I have found it advantageous to polarize the light source upon replication in order to minimize direct reflections. This cuts down the intensity of the patterning to a reasonable, workable degree.
When choosing where not to blur, where not to smudge, it is important to consider what you will lose and what you will gain. In the grainy photo on the left above, the baby is wearing a knitted onesie with fairly nice detailing in the knit pattern. I don't want to lose that pattern in order to get rid of the graininess, so I remove the most intrusive grains and enhance the detailing of the knit pattern in the shadows in order to override and incorporate the remaining grain.
In details like the skin, blurring and smudging will be beneficial to smooth the texture and even out tone. But it's important not to blur the detail in and around the eyes - blur the whites, a little is okay; blur the irises, no-no. If some blurring in these high-detail areas must be done, a light touch followed by reintroduction and enhancement of shadow lines, highlight points, and details needs to be accomplished. Discernment is key in these situations because sometimes simply breaking a line is all it takes to stop the eye from being drawn to an area, so we don't necessarily need to remove every little defect.
All of this may make restoration work sound a bit tedious, but it isn't. It can be challenging, yes, but never tedious. Once the work is done and the image has been saved and enhanced, it is a beautiful moment all its own.
All photos and text copyright protected. ©Tricia Lattin
Is any photo suited to colorizing?
There are some photos that are more suited to colorization than others. In the three photos above, two of the three are suited to full colorization. The little boy and little girl are a good choice for adding color to, where the young woman is less suited. The answer is in the gray area. The children's photos have a nice range of gray tones, with a few bright highlights and a few dark shadows. This broad tonal range that varies mainly in the middle grays, with good detail and clear lines will allow the color to lay over the grays without becoming muddy and grays to come through the color to allow for contouring and definition.
In pictures like the one with the young woman, there aren't sufficient tonal ranges to support colorization. The dark areas cover the majority of the photo, which would cause full colorizing would look unnatural and dirty, or muddy. In this case, a soft selenium or sepia tone would add a touch of color to the entire photo without making her look sickly. It's plausible that the flower could be colorized; however, while the flower is prominent in the photo, the focus is to be on her face. Perhaps a blush of pink tint could be added to the flower as well as her cheeks, but it needs to be very subtle in both locations. I have added the tint of pink to the photo below so you can decide whether or not you like it.
Adding color to a vintage photograph is complex.
Whether or not a photo should be colored is debatable. Black and white images are beautiful and have a character all their own. With the intense colors possible in today's digital world, the black and white photo is unique and stands out in a crowd because of its uncomplicated beauty. This wasn't always the case, though. In the early 1900s, color film didn't exist. So, to give people something new and sought after, hand-tinting and hand-coloring black and white photos was something special and even a sign of prosperity. In Japan, colorizing photographs was considered a form of fine art, and William Nutting from the New England area became well known and respected for his work colorizing landscape photography. [1-2]
But what merit does colorizing photos have today? I feel it really boils down to what you like. An average photo can be made special with a kiss of well-placed color. Color can add a sense of life to a photo, making a child look young and vibrant. Color can attract the eye, improving or enhancing focus. And colorized photos have a look and feel that is unique to them. Like any other art form, if the look and feel of colorized images appeals to you, then that is the only reason needed to have it in your life.
Below are the photos of the children fully colorized and the young woman with a tint of color in the high points of her face, her lips, and the flower. I will leave it to you whether you like colorizing or not, but I feel it has a place, a style, and a value all its own that definitely gives it a seat at the table.
All images Copyrighted. ©Tricia Lattin
1. Hand-Coloring of Photography
2. Hand Coloring of Nineteenth Century Photographs
This photo of a wiggly little sister and ever-so-patient big brother is a good representation of a mid-level restoration photo. The tear and creases run through the middle of the photo, across the children's faces. The tear is significant in length and width, and there are many small wrinkles that spread out around the tear. There are also several other areas of branching wrinkles, dents, and blemishes that are more difficult to see on the photo at this size. There is also some yellowing from tape in the lower corner and some minor discoloration.
Since the primary tear runs through important detail areas for the image, it takes attention to detail to remove the deficiency without what looks like a digital scar. This "scarring" is when the repair work leaves behind an unblended or blurry, undefined area. This scarring, depending on the extent of it, can either be very distracting or subtle but obvious enough to look wrong. This is when running a self-healing or cloning tool over the image and letting the program do the dirty work just isn't enough. For this, you need to zoom in and work in small, overlapping areas while maintaining a mental position and vision of the overall photo. It's easy enough to lose track of what exactly your fixing and end up making the problem worse instead of better, so every now and then you need to "step back" by zooming out and get a feel for how the entire photo and correction are coming together. This keeps one from having to correct the corrections, saving a great deal of time and frustration.
Adjusting the color tone and removing the small area of yellow tape discoloration in this case is quick and easy. Adding some highlights and shadows helps add depth to the details and define areas a bit more. Overall, the image is repaired, corrected, and refined back to its original character.
This is a photo of my grandma (on the right) and her brother and sister. It may not look like much of a photograph to anyone that isn't in my family. It's a basic snapshot. But to me, this is an important photograph. I don't have many photos of my grandma and even fewer with her siblings or other extended family. Also, I remember this dress. I remember those glasses. For some reason, I also remember my great aunt's dress (it is unique, after all). So seeing this photo brings back a lot of memories. I really don't care that it isn't a professional shot with flawless lighting, that it isn't a gorgeous location, that it isn't a historical moment in time, or anything else someone might find wrong with it. It's my grandma, my great aunt and uncle, I love them, I miss them, and I want to preserve this moment because the original photograph is fading away. Any of these reasons, all of these reasons, or any other reasons are all good enough reasons to restore a photo.
My objective is to bring out some detail that has been lost to time and was probably never very sharp to begin with. The image is a bit blurry in the most important places - their faces - and there are some other details I want to enhance a bit because of what they add to the meaning of the photo. For instance, my uncle was a big man with big hands (now I know from which side of the family my brother and I get our height), and he has quite a squeeze on both of his sisters. It's hard to tell in the blurry photo, but he is pulling them both in to him enough that it wrinkles their sleeves, and I want to see more of that affection than the blurry photo has to offer. Also, my grandma's corsage is beautiful but washed out. It needs a little pop added back in, though not too much because Grandma never would have worn a garish corsage. Overall, the skin tones and other significant colors need some saturation put into them. Of course, dust, scratches, and some small but distracting and unnecessary elements need removed.
This is what I would consider a basic-plus restoration and retouching. The dust, scratches, and repairs are minimal. To bring back lost detail and color is more exacting. Every centimeter of the photo was gone over to fix minor blemishes, but not every detail was given precision attention.