As a lecturer, many people ask me when getting ready to restore a damaged photograph “Where to begin?”, especially when the image is badly damaged and in need of a lot of attention.
I always give the same answer; begin by identifying where the problems lie and mentally list them. This all sounds a little simplistic, I know, but it little careful consideration on how you will go about your restoration may save hours of work.
You wish to restore a portrait of your Great Aunt Flo. There is a lot of creases and dirt on the image so you dive in the deep end with Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool to repair the image. 3 hours later the image is restored. However, if you had studied your image carefully, you would have no-doubt noticed that the back-drop behind your Great Aunt was very non-descript and blurry (as with many vintage studio back-drops).
Now, if you had identified this earlier, you could have started by cutting out your Ol’ Flo and putting her into a new background saving you all of the time and effort spent in restoring that blurry, featureless back-drop. Doh!
You are restoring a crowd shot. It is always good to zoom into your subject matter – I’d recommend working between 100% – 200%. Unfortunately, restoring at this zoom factor, although it allows for precision and control, it can disconnect you from what the image is all about.
You may find after hours of careful restoration – once you have zoom out from your subject, you have only gone and removed a few vital limbs and ended up with an image that now looks like a still from a B-movie zombie classic.
Had you studied your image before jumping straight into a spot of photo-restoration, you would have become more familiar with not only the problems, but the general contents of your image.
Get to know your image. Spend just a few seconds before work commences and study the composition, details and damage therein. This will save you time. I have been restoring image now for the past 10 years and I always follow this principle. You don’t have to be too methodical, just use your eyes and think about what needs to be done.