A CLIENT CONSULTATION ABOUT PHOTO RESTORATION

A LESSON FROM "DAD"

 

Before I start my article on the restoration of "Dad," I'm sure you are curious about the cost of restoration.  I bill out at an hourly rate of $40 per hour and while some restorations may take just a couple of hours, some can take several hours.  I will evaluate your work and based on my experience quote you a price.  If it takes me longer than I estimated, then the responsibility falls on me and the cost is absorbed by me.  Prints are additional.  I will provide you with an electronic file.  If you want a black and white "tinted" (colorized), this will take longer to do.  An example of an extensive job that I did is in my before and after gallery where the face of the woman in the 1825-ish photo is missing and I had to recreate it from scratch, giving her a new eye and new mouth.  Something that extensive took several hours.  The photograph had mold as well, so there was a lot of clean up, but the challenge was in putting a face back on her.

Now, let's look at "Dad." This photo has a few extremes and would not necessarily be one where I could promise to have a great outcome.  The damage is considerable.  It traveled in the son's wallet for years.  As a whole, it has limitations and so I wanted to show it as an "about" because often the client has an expectation that the photo will polish and shine as though it was shot with a 46 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens. More often than not, I can get some really fantastic results, but knowing what the challenges are will help you decide on restoration.  

I am a Photoshop person from way back when and I never really considered restoration until I heard my father say a few years back that he paid someone to restore a photo, he paid a lot and he said he could have done as well by himself.  He didn't show me the photo and perhaps it was the best restoration that could have been accomplished with that particular photo, so educating you, the client, is important and I've chosen a difficult photo to illustrate this.

Older photos were captured on film or slides, both of which had grain.  In today's universe, that is considered noise to be rid of, but in its day, finer photographs were known by the type of film and therefore the type of grain used to achieve the look they were after. Family shots such as this were not taken with the finest optical glass by a trained photographer. The idea of a photo, the human element is caught up in the magic of the moment because the moment is the most important thing. That's it.  Case in point, I can colorize or stylize or retouch the hell out of you, but you're more interested in how you looked at that time. If I do a moderately heavy retouch and you look fabulous, as long as I didn't shave an unreasonable amount of years off of your life, this is who you are in the mirror or who you want to be and that's how you want people to see you and you will never say, "gee you made me look too good."  You'll say, "darn, you made me look good."  You didn't care what type of lighting I used or how well I posed you - you are concerned with the other stuff and you should be.  My job as a photographer is to know how to use the tools.

We all want content. That's all. I shot a picture of a friend and it was tinged brown -- a cell phone picture in very bad lighting. I wouldn't show that to my cat on his trip to the litter box because I am more concerned with the technique.  She made it her profile picture on facebook.  I was embarrassed.  She was looking good that night. That's it; that's what counts.  

Later on, quality catches up with the best of us, but with an old photo, age does it in. Paper and chemicals will do in a good photo. Most photographers hand off jpegs to you - if technology doesn't quit the format, keep in mind that jpegs no matter how long technology holds on to the format, lose quality (due to compression) every time you open and close them. But, the truth is that things change and ultimately Jpegs will die the same death as an 8-track player, so if you think printing is passe, think again - leave something tangible for people like me to fix which, hopefully with better technology can overcome the issues I will describe here, but we are not completely there yet.

Getting back to a photo like this:  contrast and clarity faded and photo chemicals did "other things," such as darken the hollows of someone's eyes.  Interestingly, it is often easier to clean up a really old photo from the 1800s because the cameras used then were large format and the person handling a camera like that was a pro, so to that end, photos of that era may be damaged, but there can be more to work with.

  • This is a small photograph, at least 50 years old. It is not  only faded, but has a lot of damage.
  • Facial recreation is tricky if you have nothing to work with, especially the eyes  Communication is imperative.  In this picture, I saw eye glasses and the client said he didn't remember his dad wearing eye glasses, but he added, there's his frown.  
  • If there are other photos of the person to work from, it may help, but if if we are relying on painting skills to recreate the character of the person, you might prefer to keep the photo "soft." Rendering is always subjective, not an exact science.
  • This picture was about three inches square and making it bigger will pixelate the image.  There is not any wiggle room on image size. .  

This picture can potentially work well printed on canvas. The texture of a canvas print diminishes detail by the very nature of what it is and the stronger color can make it feel like a painting

The next treatment subdues the details by adding grain and converted to black and white.  This is never going to look shining brand new, but the feeling and character of the picture can be brought back