I was copied into a request for help a few days ago. Someone I didn’t know had only a few family photos still in existence, from their parents’ wedding in 1965.
They were a bit worse for wear; dust and scratches and colour pigments that had aged inconsistently over 57 years.
Could I help? I hope so.
I’m not a professional photo restorer, I’m a professional portrait photographer. I know a fair bit about what can be done with a photo after it’s been taken, but there were some new challenges here.
So I got to work (this post, and the photos used, all with kind permission of the owner).
The first point to note is what I *didn’t* try to change. The composition and crop are largely as they were; though I made a few tiny adjustments to give slightly cleaner compositions. The film grain is quite strong, but that’s very much part of the medium these were created in, so it stays. The general colour palette is also utterly evocative of the 1960s, and the characteristics of the film, so although I’ve done a tiny bit of colour cast adjustment (generally making people a bit less yellow) I’ve left them in peace.
I have meticulously fixed all the scratches and dust spots, and a few areas where it looks like contact with framing glass has selectively removed some of the pigment. Using cloning and healing tools in Photoshop is highly precise work. There is a filter that will look for “dust & scratches” and improve things a bit, but it can play havoc with detailed areas of photos, so I’ve done a very light pass with this then got to work on magnified areas of the image and just painted, painted, painted.
As I did – getting to know these strangers, some of them presumably no longer with us, and enjoying all the aspects of their expressions, home furnishings, drinks on their shelves – I felt an enormous sense of privilege. It’s always an honour to do family photography work, being invited into someone’s closest world to make something that will last. But most of all I just loved the photos. I think you have to love the photos, to be able to do photography well.
The hardest part was dealing with the selective fading of the pigments. Remaining areas of strong red had given a lot of the faces a blotchy, spotty look, and this needed careful selective colour adjustment – but not erasing the grain effect totally, or unbalancing those 60s colours.
I hope they bring a lot of joy to the family as they reprint and share them.
Have you got a photo that means a huge amount to you, but could do with a bit of help? Get in touch.
[If you click on any photo, then the arrows should let you navigate between versions to compare what’s changed.]