Respectful Restorations

I have recently embarked on a restoration project that will of necessity stretch over the course of many months.  It is one that I have had in mind for some considerable time, but—being a semi-professional and very accomplished procrastinator—have put off until some “convenient” time.  Having realized that the clock is ticking, I have brought it to a front burner.

My slide- and negative-scanner is fairly old, and apparently is not compatible with Windows 7, but I have been able to get it to work with my old laptop, which I retired a couple of years ago because it had already exceeded its life expectancy, and I wanted to have it as a backup while it was still in (albeit rather precarious) working order.  I’ve been putting both to good use, working diligently on the restoration for several weeks now, and have become so deeply involved that it hasn’t occurred to me to share its joys with my followers—until now.

A new post by the FATman, in which he presented a 34-year-old slide that he’s scanned and reconstructed  (here’s a direct link to his post from yesterday: has inspired me to do a post about some of the joys and rewards of scanning and restoration.

There are three phases to the process.  The first involves scanning prints, for which the negatives or slides from which they were originally made are no longer available.  This is done with a flat-bed scanner, and this process may be the subject of a future post.  The second is the scanning of slides (usually color, but also the much rarer monochrome—black-and-white—ones), which are rather notoriously susceptible not only to deterioration in color and integrity, but also to attack by mold, which creates opaque filaments that grow across their surfaces.  The third is the scanning of both monochrome and color negatives, both of which may also deteriorate in similar fashion, but usually not as rapidly or dramatically as slides.  Some flatbed scanners come with accessories that allow some scanning of slides or negatives but, in my experience, they do not produce sufficiently detailed results to be of much value for reasonable enlargement and display, except possibly to produce a thumbnail positive images for reference purposes, e.g., a contact sheet; when quality images are needed, a dedicated negative/slide scanner is essential for satisfactory results.  A decent one will probably come with a price tag of around US $300-600.  Mine was at the lower end, and still serves me well enough, but that was around five years ago.  I haven’t looked into the current state of the art recently.  Of course, you can also have old slides, negatives, and prints scanned more-or-less professionally at your local camera shop or other photo-processing facility.

Once the slides or negatives (or prints) have been scanned to create digital images, some further processing is necessary to correct defects and restore colors that have faded over time.  The software that I use is not expensive or difficult to learn to use:  My main workhorse is Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 (version 10 is now available); for difficult color challenges such as subtle skin tones, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (I did not need to use it for these three examples).

Without getting too technical, I’d like to present some before-and-after examples of some of the photos from my archives that I’ve been working with recently.  For each of these, I’ll present the raw image as it appeared after the scan, with an enlargement of a detail of an appropriate section, and, finally, the restored image (in the case of the monochrome, also cropped according to my current preferences).

My first example is a monochrome negative from 1971 whose contrast and saturation have softened over time.

The second is of a color slide from 1972 that has faded considerably and on which some mold has grown.

The third is of a color negative from about 1987 that has not only faded, but also developed scratches and other defects.

I was able to do all the color corrections in these examples with Photoshop Elements.  This restoration process admittedly does take some time, but I think you’ll agree that it’s well worth it!


About krikitarts

Welcome to Krikit Arts! I'm a veterinarian; photographer; finger-style guitarist, composer, instructor, and singer/songwriter; fisherman; and fly-tyer. Please enjoy--and please respect my full rights to all photos on this Website!
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9 Responses to Respectful Restorations

  1. wolke205 says:

    It deffo worth it! I have to admit I m too lazy to do this, but the results are amazing. By the way I love the three photos! And you explained it pretty good, even an amateur like me got it :)

  2. It’s wonderful to be able to restore imagery from the past. Digital technology will help preserve the analog past that is fading. You’ve done a wonderful job on these!

  3. Wow, the image recovery is incredible!

  4. Adrian Lewis says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog, Gary! Adrian

  5. As others mentioned before me: Impressive how well you managed to recover the (damaged) film. I have a few images that I personally like, of which the negatives where damaged by a sloppy photo print shop. Seeing this makes me hopeful that, once I give it a go, I’ll be able to get a decent recovery done.

    • krikitarts says:

      It’s definitely a labor of love. I don’t use any fancy program apps to despeckle or reduce noise, but rather blow up the image to somewhere between 100% and 300% and then, with my PhotoShop Elements (8), using mostly the fuzzy-edged clone tool, borrow similar tones & textures from (usually) immediately-adjacent areas to repair scratches, missing emulsion, fungus, filaments, and the like For faded and discolored older negatives & slides, I usually color-correct manually, but sometimes it’s amazing what the Auto Smart Fix (in the drop-down Enhance menu) can do, at least to provide a decent starting point. After a half-hour of this painstaking work, it’s absolute magic to shrink the image to full-size again and see it in its restored condition. It’s akin to the joy of watching a print come to first life in the developer bath!

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