Renovating old photos

The process of restoring old photos to their former glory usually requires work at a very detailed level and can be time-consuming. I find that following the same process every time, reduces the overall time taken and the potential for rework.

The first step in the process is to obtain a good scan of the photographic material whether old photos, 35mm negatives or 35mm slides. Here, at Amber Photographics, the only cleaning we undertake is to use air pressure to remove dust, etc from the surface of the material before carefully loading in the scanner – Epson V750 Pro for prints and Nikon Coolscan 9000 for 35mm negatives and slides. I’d rather remove further marks digitally than risk touching what is often old and fragile material.

All material is scanned in colour with further dust or scratches removed digitally and I sometimes choose to turn on digital colour correction at the same time. Whether I use digital colour correction depends on the image and I decide on an individual basis often through previewing the scan. Once scanned, I bring the image into Photoshop and take some time to look at it in detail, decide on what needs doing and estimate the effort involved. I think that this is an important step as it gives me time to understand what I am trying to achieve. For example, deciding at this stage to crop the image in a certain way can save renovation time and at the same time give a better result.

For black and white originals, I think the best next step is to convert the scanned image to black and white and correct for brightness and contrast. It is at this stage that the benefit of scanning in colour becomes evident as it is possible to check the separate colour channels and decide which one forms the best basis for the conversion. Colour originals are colour corrected.

By correcting the image first, renovation becomes much easier as the background detail is much clearer. The last step is to retouch the image – removing all the marks and rebuilding missing areas. This is where the magic happens and will be the subject matter for future blogs.

I guess the photo restoration process is whatever works for you. This one certainly seems to work for me.

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