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  • Retouching Originals

    I am wondering about the advisability of doing actual retouching work on original photos. While the work when first done is no doubt first rate and faithful to the original photo in tone, etc.,, What happens when with the passing of time the original image continues to fade, as is inevitable at this time, no process yet having been developed to halt the deteriorative processes. Do the retouched areas fade at the same rate as the original image or are you left with an overall faded image area with darker areas where the retouching material was applied, and how do you compensate for that? Thanks, Tom

  • #2
    I never considered that. That's a good question and one I'm fastinated to hear comments on. I know I don't have the answers. I'm glad I don't have to make that decision in my line of work.


    • #3
      Excellent question Tom. Although I don't have the answers, it does seem that if a retouched print were left in a state where further deterioration takes place, retouched areas would probably not fade at the same rate as the rest of the print. Maybe Jim Conway would be able to provide some answers on this interesting question.



      • #4
        I remember Heather mentioning there was a big difference between conservation and retouching. I think she actually leans more toward the conservation side where it's repair and cleaning to damaged areas but not actually touching up the image.


        • #5
          I remember reading Heathers posts and thought they were very well thought out. If you are working with something that is of exceptional value, you don't take avoidable risks and "reversibility" is the key word.

          That's an objective however - and it's not etched in stone in a court of last resort! Chemical restoration, in my opinion, is a good example of a last resort technique in bringing back an image that is too faint for a decent job. If it can be done and salvage the image, it should be done. (note I said last resort again) Many times the photo will fade back again but in the meantime you've had an opportunity to copy or scan one that would have been a total loss and make it quite presentable.

          I have no hesitation deacidifying and dry mounting an old photo if the state of deterioration is such that it's crumbling and I know it will not last out the decade. Why wait when you know it won't be done unless you do it now? Again, these things are judgment calls based on the artifact in front of you.

          As far as art work is concerned, it has always been a part of this business. Spotting and touchups, unless done on the negative, don't fade or deteriorate on the same timetable as the materials and never have. I have a natural color photo in the shop where someone darkened the girl blue eyes - now nearly everything else is gone except those blue eyes - and I've often seen the reverse of that, even in early Daguerreotypes, where the hand coloring has faded but the images are still strong.

          I would never let that factor stop me from improving the work if I can. First, I'd use materials that are known to be stable and not going to cause further damage of any kind. Second, I'd assume that true restoration is not a "one time thing". If the work you do extends the life of the artifact and makes the piece something to be prized as a valued keepsake, it's more likely to be handled with a great deal of care. and third, if you make it more valuable now, it will be there for another restorer to touch up again long after most of us are gone!

          In other words Tom, look at it as a "work in progress" for generations to come, not as an end product when you are done.

          Jim Conway


          • #6
            Hi again!
            Well I just had to jump in and be a part of the conversation! I actually do do a lot of inpainting and touch up on original pieces. In the private conservation business it is a juggling act of preservation, conservation and restoration. Most clients come in the door with the request "make it look good". Part of my job is to educate them into understanding that it's not just a matter of looking better but taking steps to preserve the piece into the future. Part of the reason they want it to look good is because the care wasn't there in the first place. Anyway as I always seem to do I'm rattling on.

            I'd like to just elaborate on two thing Jim said. The first was regarding reversibility of treatments. (Actually I have a problem with that term because not everything in conservation or restoration is reversible. The example a fellow conservator used when explaining this view to me for the first time was with cleaning. A cleaning treatment can never really be reversible because you can't very well put the dirt back on or at least not the same type and amount. Not that you would want to but I'm sure everyone gets the point she was trying to make. I rather use the term "removable" meaning that things that are added to the piece should be removable in the future and not harm the piece in the long term). Anyway nit-picking aside....

            Jim said "look at it as a "work in progress" for generations to come, not as an end product when you are done." If you use appropriate toning/inpainting materials, and the piece fades but the inpainting doesn't it would be possible in the future (in theory) to remove the inpainting and start again inpainting with lighter tones. But this is just theory, as we well know even watercolors become less soluble over time and this is one of the many inpainting mediums that a conservator uses that are so called reversible/removable.

            So I guess my point is choose your retouching materials very carefully and try to pick those that will be reversible/removable in the future over those that are permenent.




            • #7
              Glad to see you back in here - and, of course you are right about reversals - I've never had a client ask me to put the dirt back on the photo either!

              Jim Conway


              • #8
                Thanks Jim and Heather for your insights. I am curious though about the need or advisability for doing anything other than preservation type work on an original as the advances in digital technology now allow for capture of excellent quality high res/ high bit scans to serve as digital masters for reproduction prints which can be retouched any way the customer desires without altering or possibly inadvertently damaging the original, which as a cultural and historic process artifact, is truly a priceless item. I am probably wrong in my assumption but it seems to me that with this capability as regards very high quality digital storage/reproduction now avaliable, doing anything to an original other than that which is necessary to ensure its continued existance in as good a shape as possible and directing efforts more towards the proper storage and limited display of the photo so as preserve it in as close to original condition as possible while slowing down the inevitable deteriorative processes, makes more sense than actually trying to restore it by the process of what amounts to drawing on it with materials which have nothing in common with the photolytic or filimentary silver which comprise the original image, and may actually cause further and more rapid deterioration. Am I wrong in this assumption? It just seems as though the quantum leaps which have taken place in digital technology over the past 5 years are pointing to the need to re- evaluate the traditional processes once used in photo restoration, not to do away with them, but to enhance the entire field. Thanks in advance for your inputs. Tom


                • #9
                  Hi Tom ... your interest in digital may make some of what I can say a hard sell, but I'll give it a go! :-) OK with you if I break my response in several parts for the sake of time and tackle digital conversions then storage and save "drawing" on the photos for another day? Bet we could go 24/7 for a month and not cover one one hundredth of it!

                  You said that digital "allows for" - but that objective is seldom achieved. Suitable scanners of sufficient quality for "masters" are unaffordable by even the midsize museums and certainly beyond the reach of any local historical society that I've ever encountered. What about 3D scans? Many of the photos I work on wouldn't even fit in a flatbed and you can't put them on a drum! Even if everyone could afford the work stations involved for this type of conversion, who would do the work? Most of the preservation in this country is in the hands of volunteers that are certainly not qualified computer experts. Most of the work I do for the local historical societies is pro-bono and I feel I can do more with lectures than I can working on the artifacts so I take that route whenever possible. Part of the lecture is "don't donate photo collection unless you are willing to put some money with it - preservation is not free!"

                  What is right in text book theory is not really valid in a world where millions of photos are self-destructing and the need is for practical approaches for our local museums, libraries, historical societies and family archivists. I'm thrilled when someone is willing to invest anything in their collections, even if it's only the time it takes to document them because most will do nothing.

                  To meet even simple objectives like using acid free storage boxes without an infusion of cash is difficult! When someone raises the issue of "proper storage" - do we maintain humidity and temperatures at the optimum for paper products, for plastic, for photo CD's - it's not the same for everything and again, who pays for all of this? Hollywood Vaults web site offers a lot more information on what is needed - and their preservation links will take you to a maze of products offered by suppliers for preservation products and supplies.

                  There are so many problems in real world terms I don't know where to start - but just to give you some idea of this magnitude, here's one example. (I pulled this one because I see you were with the FD?) I was doing some research on fire protection a few years ago and found that the safes that were being sold under the Kodak label were, in my opinion, totally unsuitable for storing photos or negatives. They were being sold in nearly all major stores in the country and it stated on both the packaging and the product that they were UL approved for the purpose but my research led to disproving that although the manufacture is still claiming otherwise. Bottom line, Kodak no longer has their name on the fire safes - a decision made at board level after my report. But the real question is - How many people have their film or photo CD's stored in those home safes ..and how do we get them out of there because believe me, even the negative inserts that were provided are damaging but the people that own them still think it's "proper storage"!

                  So, I think I look at these things in light of what I get into in real life and sometimes people will not see the advice as the "right way" in terms of idealistic or certain authors but it can be an effective way in the field and that's where I've hung my hat.

                  Jim Conway


                  • #10

                    I'd just like to point out some of the downsides of digital storage. First, CD's are not forever. Estimated life for top quality CD-R like the Kodak Ultima are on the order of 100-150 years. That is the top end, most people buy the cheapest CDs they can find. That however, is not worst problem.

                    I have a box I use for storing papers. It is special to me because it brings back memories of my first "real" job. It is an 8" floppy box. I don't have any 8" floppy disks, and if I did where would I read them? I think I have some QIC-80 tapes too. The drive to read them is in a drawer somewhere, but probably wouldn't be compatable with current operating systems.

                    What I'm getting at, is that digital media becomes obsolete at a very rapid pace. It takes dedication keep archives on currently readable media. I understand the National Archives has gotten itself in trouble with this already, with thousands of documents on media they can't read anymore. How long before CDs are not readable with a standard home computer? Probably not that long.

                    So what is the solution. One book I have recommends making color separations on archivally developed black and white film (large format of course). Black and white negatives have a proven track record of long life and inherant readability...

                    Personally I just hope I can keep updating my collection to whatever is current. I have too many to even consider making separations...



                    • #11
                      preservation, conservation, restoration or digital many choices...

                      We could go round and round about this. I'm pretty sure we've covered the problems of using digital formats as replacements for originals in another thread...I just can't find it. Bad idea at this point in the evolution of technology.

                      I do agree with Jim and I said it in an earlier post it's all about education. I think most conservators would say they spend a lot of their time on the phone, in person, on e-mail, and in message boards like this one trying to educate anyone who will listen about preservation issues. I always tell people if they want to get the most bang for their buck preservation is the way to go. Buy museum quality storage enclosures and boxes, improve the storage environment, avoid attics, basements, outer walls, pests and potential sources of water damage.

                      But to go back to Tom's question about why do touch ups on the originals when digital quality is so good. Well I disagree that it is that great. Remember everytime we make a copy we loose information and that applies to scans and digital photography too. There is often a color shift and dust showing up among other problems. It's certainly not a perfect process giving perfect images.

                      The thing that I find most clients don't like about the digital process is the end result. The tactile quality of a print out or a resin coated print (especially the glossy ones) is no where near the same as the look and feel of a vintage print. It's not just about having a copy of a pretty picture for some people but having the artifact, the history and the beauty of the original.

                      Damage is part of the history of the piece but at the same time I can understand a family's wish to have their long lost relative whole again. It is always a balancing act to find the right solution for both the piece and the owner. There is no blanket solution for all problems.

                      I'd also like to think that if the piece is coming to a trained conservator who has studied available techniques, has the skills, and knowledge to choose the right treatments that damage to an original will be rare. Part of a conservator's code of ethics it to keep up with the literature and basically never stop being the student, never stop learning the newest techniques available that have been tested for stability amoung other thing. Again I will stress that retouching or doing any kind of treatment (for example cleaning, tape removal etc.) should be left to those with training and experience.

                      In response to the comment "...actually trying to restore it by the process of what amounts to drawing on it with materials which have nothing in common with the photolytic or filimentary silver which comprise the original image, and may actually cause further and more rapid deterioration."

                      I would say using removable materials that are different than the composition of the original image would be considered a good thing. The new material is not trying to pass off as part of the original and can be identified more easily to future conservation professionals. If something that is removable is chosen than the option is available in th efuture to remove the toning/inpainting. I do agree that these materials will not provide a perfect match but than that's not what I go for. In a past thread I talked about toning to blend rather than inpainting to deceive. And I wouldn't call it drawing on a photograph that's usually another kind of damage I see a lot of!

                      Tom I think you've opened a kettle of fish! This could be a fun discussion.

                      Well I'm tired and can't think of anything else to add right now,



                      • #12
                        Personally, I think my matte inkjet prints have a lovely vintage feel. That's one of the reasons I chose that medium.

                        I view the original as holy. So, aside from steps needed for conservation, I feel it should be left as pristine as possible.
                        Learn by teaching
                        Take responsibility for learning


                        • #13
                          At one time, and not all that long ago, the quality of digital was pretty poor.. however, I would respectfully submit that this is no longer the case. The key to obtaining a a high quality scan and consequent reproduction for dissemination via various mediums is high quality equipment, operator expertise and a thorough knowledge of the digital domain, as it were. High res./High bit digital scans are, if done properly, better than a copy photo taken by traditional methods, as copy photography always degrades the image to a greater degree than a high quality scan does, as CCD's or photomultiplier tubes are magnitudes of degrees more sensitive than film..even the hypered variety. This was shown by some research done by the Image Permenance Institute in a study on digital archiving. I am not dismissing traditional methods, as I strongly feel that conventional and digital can and indeed should work together. But consider that by making physical alterations to an original photo one may, and quite probably is, doing some degree of harm which, unless done to prevent further accelerated damage, perhaps should be approached with extreme caution. Take routine cleaning...increased cracking, loss of gloss ( in the case of the albumen photo the gloss is what attracted so much public excitement as the ealier salt paper prints were more matte), also, the layer of oxidation products which form a thin film over the top of the image layer may well act as a barrier to prevent the diffusion of oxygen into the image bearing layer thus slowing down the oxidative/reductive deterioration of the photo. Also, as in the case of the albumen photo, due to the way in which the senistization was done, the photolytic silver is not dispersed through the binder layer in an homogenous manner--photomicrographs from Electron microscopy studies have shown that the image bearing photolytic silver layer is fairly close to the top of the image layer.Just where cleaning takes place. The moisture from cleaning softens the top layer, rendering it more permeable to the diffusion of atmospheric contaminant gasses, while the moisture can react with residual sulfur compounds to accelerate image decomposition. Actually painting or drawing on the original opens a real problem as regards chemical interaction with the material applied and the binder layer and the manner of deterioration of the applied material with times passing and the interaction of the applied material with airborn contaminants. The laws of Chemistry, especially organic are, as yet, not completely understood and the components making up the binder layer of gelatin and Albumen photos react in strange ways due to their complex molecular make up, Many changes not advancing to a visually detectable stage for years.
                          I also must respectfully disagree about " a can of worms". Preservation of our photographic history, both the original process artifacts and readily avaliable copys which can rapidly be altered for transmission by various methods, is now possible and very desirable. Rather that threaten the established field of Preservation and Restoration, the digital revolution has the potential to greatly expand it as photos once ignored are now brought in to be " worked on ". It is simply a matter of adding a knowledge of things digital to the established avocation of Restoration/Conservation and then applying them together.
                          I think what is emerging is the realization that there are now two distinct but not necessarily mutually exclusive lines here... One is the recognition of the extreme value of the original photo as a cultural artifact and a priceless historic process artifact which must be preserved in as close to original form as possible, with minimal manipulation ( and that restricted to only vital repairs), and Two the need to preserve the image data/information captured by the original in such a way as to allow for retouching and dissemination of the reproduced photo from a digital master, to any number of different visual media. The misconception that digital isnt capable of this, is just that, a misconception. The public embraces, by in large, the digital advantage. Somehow, the traditional and digital schools of thought must come together and work in mutual cooperation or I fear many fine and very importiant photos now residing in obscurity will deteriorate and be lost forever. Just my rambling thoughts... Tom
                          Last edited by thomasgeorge; 02-01-2002, 07:39 AM.


                          • #14
                            Hi again:

                            Well I only have time to say a couple of words this morning and will have to come back to it later to read through Tom's lengthy paragraph.

                            What I ment about kettle of fish (or can of worms as you say) is that it was an interesting topic that I thought a lot of people would have an opinion about and so far that seems to be the case.

                            Tom, I don't deny that digital imaging is getting really really good because it is. But just out of curiousity who is using the really high end equipment? I'm not and I doubt too many using this site are either. Even the NEH funded project for the state of Colorado which provides "scanning centers" for all of the libraries, archives and museums who are involved in the project don't. Scanning is done by volunteers and the scanners are not much better than the best scanner you can find at the local computer store or office depot (not to mention they are a couple years old now). I asked the project coodinator about the quality of the scans and was told at this point in time the project can not be about preservation because they don't have the money, the equipment or the storage capability and that it was solely about providing access to collections. So although the technology is coming along it may not be within the grasp for the average shop for sometime. I can't wait til it is though!

                            Until it does I don't think we should stop scanning I just think we may scan again. And certainly we should keep our originals incase we don't keep up with technology. It is a daunting task to think of the thousands of digital images and hours of time I will need to convert all of my files to a new format if and when technology changes.

                            Regarding in your words your ramblings on Albumen prints this is a well know problem with this print type and cleaning of an albumen is never just done without regard to it's current condition. In fact any treatment must be justified before proceeding. That is why asthetic repairs are sometimes not done especially in institutional collections because other than the appearance it has not improved it's preservation. Treatment of a piece is never entered into lightly and without trying to explain the pros and cons to the owner...including long term results. But this is the real world and as I've said before it is a bit of a juggling act between the piece and what the client wants. In fact I'd say more often than not I persuade clients to go the digital route with pieces that need asthetic improvements. They can get what they want, even fix up some flaws or things they don't like in the picture, change the overall tone, and even frame it and expose it to light all they want. But there are some who won't settle for the appearance of the modern print or have other reasons for the conservation of the original and I try to respect that if I can't sway them with a little education. But even if I respect a clients opinion I still have the right to refuse the work if they request me to do something I feel is unethical or will harm the piece.

                            I may be a conservator but I also provide digital restoration services and often combine the two. The conservation of the original so the piece can be preserved into the future and the digital to provide a) a whole picture b) multiple copies (digital and print). Often I will do the conservation work prior to scanning and digital clean up to provide the best possible scan. An example of this is a sepia toned wedding portrait that came in with losses, stains, mold and paint on the surface and so on. (If I can figure out how to attach two pictures I might include them). Rather than just scanning the piece and having to imagine what parts of the faces looked like the piece was treated to remove the mold, paint and other disfiguring materials. Now I had an almost complete piece to scan and the piece could be preserved without fear that mold might reoccur or the materials on the surface would accelerate the deterioration of the emulsion and image silver.

                            So I certainly think that there is a place for preservation, conservation, restoration and digital restoration to live in harmony. And choosing wisely and sometimes even combining these things can produce an even better end result for everyone/everything involved.

                            Ok that was a bit longer than planned but now I've gotta run and get back to the real world.

                            Have a great day all!



                            • #15
                              Here's to the buckets full of self destructing prints!

                              Call it a bucket of worms - or just getting into a friendly debate, I'm game if I can get my concerns addressed. I covered the unlikelihood of "master digitals" for what I might guess will be more than 99% of all existing photos today before they self destruct ...and I also questioned "proper storage" as a viable solution to preservation for the same 99% of our existing photos. Who's idea of proper storage and who pays?

                              I have to end the "hypotheticals" that I'll have enough time to participate in when it comes to "drawing" on the originals. Like the other challenges offered for practice - I think it might be best to stick to Case Studies and look for the professionalism in the responses, question the specifics if you disagree with the chemical formulas used if you know anything about chemistry or question the techniques applied if you understand them and think they are wrong or don't understand them and want to know more. I'm in full agreement with digital retouching and storage as being essential tools in today's world or I wouldn't be participating here - but I'm not going to scan a photo that has bubble gum stuck all over it without cleaning it first either!

                              One of the jobs in the shop now is a 3x4 ft. framed natural color photo of two children that was dry mounted on foamcore. It is starting to fade but not too bad yet. The problem is a 3/4 inch cut in it about a 1/16 of an inch wide and about the same depth caused by a bump against something when he moved it.. The client could not (or does not want to pay the price of a copy and duplicate print in that size) So, I'm going to fill that gouge with some gelatin and "draw" on it with a touch of matching photo acrylic paint (sold by Veronica Cass Photographic Arts) and hand it back to the client for a grand total of $65.00 for about 20 minutes of my actual working time. The client knows that his original is a goner (fade) in a few years when he puts it back on display in his family room but wants to enjoy it now. Two other photo shops told him it couldn't be done. Any recommendations that will offer him a better alternative than I have?

                              And Doug, there is no doubt that you can create great looking fakes - probably someday you will even be able to clone the original down to the cotton fibers in the paper - that's why I said that our attempts at preservation are "works in progress" for future generations not an end product.

                              Maybe the guy with the color print I've mentioned here will decide in five or six years to go for a duplicate made on a large printer from some Reprographics Shop that will be near perfect (before the fade rate exceeds the acrylic fill) At least he will have that option now, he said if he couldn't get it fixed, he was going toss it in the trash - it won't get tossed now and that's why I love this line of work!

                              Jim Conway


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