Repairing old photos is one of my core services and something I take a great deal of pride in.
A client recently showed me a very old picture of her father. The image is a pencil drawing made whilst he was a POW in a camp near Nagasaki in 1943. She wanted the image preserving and wondered if I could do anything with it.
As you can see, it is very fragile and has been subject to the ravages of time. The picture is torn and has been stained by a leaking pen at some point. The fold lines are clearly visible showing that the image has spent a considerable amount of time folded up. The original image was approx 7″ x 5″.
I like a challenge so took the job on. The first thing was to make sure I got a hi-quality scan in TIFF format.
TIFF format should always be used for any scanned images that you intend to work on. TIFF files are classed as a ‘lossless’ format. When the image is saved, all the image data is saved in an unmodified format. The predominant file type is JPEG and is classed as a ‘lossy’ format. This is because when the image is saved, image data is discarded to make a smaller file size. If you were to use JPEG as your main format, each time the image was saved a little more data is discarded and eventually the image quality would be irretrievably damaged. Use TIFF for all the intermediate stages and then only save the final completed version as a Jpeg.
Back to the project.
I first decided to get rid of the tattered edges and get the neat edges back.
To do this I expanded the image canvas to get a new clean edge. The new canvas was then filled by using the clone tool and sampling from a clean part of the image, close to the existing tatty edges. This gives an authentic look to the base ‘fabric’ but leaves a dark ‘mark’ where the existing edges are. This mark is removed using the clone tool. You now have an image with clean edges.
The next step I tackled were the various holes. To do this I sampled a clean colour from near to each hole and used this colour with the fill tool to get a base colour for each hole. I then used the clone tool to bring in a more natural shade to finish the fill. One key factor to remember , especially with a project like this, is that you are not just copying and matching colours. You need to match the texture of the base material. In this case it is a heavy paper with quite substantial texture. If you only repair the colours, you will end up with a very inauthentic repair. The key to a successful final image is the very subtle texture repairs.
The clone tool is one of the main tools I use. One issue you very quickly encounter is tone matching on larger areas of repair. You will eventually find that the tones on each side of the repair don’t match and you can’t get a natural join. The top brown stain on the left hand edge was quite difficult as there are multiple repairs required in that area. Getting a natural looking join takes some time with very fine adjustments and refinements.
When faced with such a complex restoration it is important to break down the repairs into manageable chunks and focus on a particular action or group of actions. I like to break the repairs down into blocks as each type of repair requires a slightly different approach and I prefer to stay on one technique as opposed to constantly changing techniques.
It also reduces the problem of ending up with incompatible tones which can occur if you start at the bottom and work down or from left to right.
Each ‘set’ of repairs were undertaken and a nice new image was evolving. Eventually you end up with a clean image but looks somewhat like a patchwork quilt. The image is clean but somehow doesn’t look natural. I reached this point after about 4 hours of work. The next part of the repair is more demanding. Here you are balancing the tones of each repair but paying particular attention to the texture. It is the texture more than anything that gives the repaired image its credibility and air of authenticity.
I spent around a further 2 hours going through the final balancing process. This can be frustrating as the changes you make are very subtle and sometimes its hard to see any progress. This is the point where a lot of people bale out and say ok, enough is enough it looks a lot better than it did.
The final push is worth it though as the resulting image gives the repair its stamp of authenticity and makes all the difference to the digital restoration.
Here is the completed image with all damage repaired and the textures and tones balanced.
This image was then sent for printing and mounting in a 16 x 12 frame of the clients choice.
5 days later the client had a beautiful repaired image hanging on her wall.
This was a difficult and time-consuming project, but I took a lot of pride in the finished result and the look of utter amazement on the clients face when she unwrapped the frame was worth all the hard work.