Preserving Memories Part 4 – Retouching?

In the previous posts I have talked about the handling and storage of our photographs both paper and digital. Now I am going to talk about the considerations of retouching images.

Do you remember the story of Cecilia Gimenez who in her efforts to save the Spanish Fresco Ecce Homo by Elias Garcia Martinez she ended up doing more harm than good. The same can be said about photographs. Once upon a time retouching had to be done by hand, if you had the original negative or plate then this was simpler as you could just reprint, however, if you had to take an image of a copy this could be a laborious task, as you would have to play around with the filters and do a bit of dodging and burning to get the faded bits back. A task only for a professional to carry out.

If there was a tear then images would need to be cropped slightly and again dodged and burned to eliminate them. Of course there are many amateur attempts at repairing tears namely in the Blue Peter style of sticky back plastic! Again more harm than good and yes, certain members of my family are guilty of it.

First of all, once you have stored your old photographs leave them be, except for periodically checking for dust, moisture and any further damage. Secondly, in this digital age we can digitise the originals by scanning them. If you can scan them yourself, you should be looking to scan at the highest dpi you can achieve, anything less than 300dpi don’t even try. Save files as TIFF files or bitmaps (Big files – but worth it!) not jpegs as they are prone to Lossy compression and lose fidelity. If none of that makes sense to you then give me a call.

Then you have to decide what to do with those scans. If you can live with the scan as it is that’s fine.  However, what if the colour isn’t quite right? Or there is a sizeable scratch going through someone’s face? Some of you will know how to remove red eye and crop an image. Some of you will even know how to remove dust and scratches, but did you know that most programmes do this by blurring the image? This isn’t very good when the image was taken on a box brownie and the lens wasn’t that sharp to start with. See the examples below:


However, what you may decide to do is go through the image in great detail and instead do spot repairs even going down to pixel level. Depending on the damage to the original this can take anywhere between an hour up to six hours.  Overwhelmed? Don’t be, Yew Tree Imagery offers scanning and sympathetic retouching as a service. Digital retouching will never replace the careful handling and storage of an original, but it can go some way to preserve our memories.


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