Second Assignment: Image Restoration

Before I begin I feel that I must apologize to my fellow classmates for posting this so late.  Due to a family emergency, I spent most of last night and nearly all of this morning in the emergency room.  Fortunately everything turned out ok.


The process of restoring and matting a photograph is a rather laborious process.  The rewards, when the task is complete are well worth the effort.  With that aside I present to you my rather pathetic attempt to emulate photographic restorers of lore.  (I am guessing that I shot for the stars but never made it off the ground.)

The photograph that I chose to restore and add some color to, I found in the online archives of the Library of Congress.  Admittedly she was not my first, nor my second choice.  I had originally planned to do the daguerreotype of Mary Todd Lincoln which is in their holdings.  The reason I did not do so was that I got into the process of trying to restore it, many of the corrections that I made ended up making the picture worse.  There were a lot of scratches and trying to rid them from the photograph seriously compromised the image.  In any event, here is the image that I chose:


The image is of a women, possibly in her thirties of forties, sitting for a photograph.  My first reaction when I caught a glimpse of this photograph is that she is probably an immigrant or, at the very least, born in the United States the daughter of immigrants.  IN some ways she reminds me of the wedding picture that my mother has of my great-grandparents.  They emigrated to the United States in the early part of the twentieth century from Italy.  There is something very captivating about her.

Upon examine the photograph the first thing that is readily apparent, aside from the detail of the image, for example, the woman’s knuckles are clearly visible, is that it needs to be cropped. One of the reasons for cropping the image is it becomes much easier to work with.  Once this is done, the next task at hand is to balance out the monochrome color scheme.  In the image there is a great abundance of white.  This is alleviated by the Photoshop feature called Curves.  This allows the reader to adjust the white balance within the photograph.  By doing so allows for a sharper and more detailed photograph.  In this particular photo, the white balance is not that off kilter and with a relatively small adjustment of the balance in the photograph, utilizing the Curves graph, I was able to adult the levels and produce a clearer and more detailed appearance.

If you look in the photograph above you will see standing behind her, and off to the right, her left, a large shadow.  I tried using the Drop Shadow feature in Photoshop to try to rid the image of it, but to no avail.  Later on, when I was adding color to the image, I tried to alter the appearance of the background, but it ended up looking rather cartoonish, well more cartoonish and grotesque than after I added color to the rest of the image, so I decided to just leave it as is.

My next task, in restoring this photo, is to try to rid the image of the many dust, scratches, and debris that have accumulated on the photograph over the years.  Opening another layer, nearly every task in Photoshop requires one and creating a new one is quite prudent, I decided to use the Spot Healing Brush for this.  After zooming in on the image I went to work.  While it worked well on most of the scratches, I was not able to completely rid the photograph of the ravages of time and ill care.

The image below is how the photograph appeared after I was finished cleaning and repairing some of it:


My next, rather Herculean task, was to try to remove the frame that the image was in and try to mat it onto another background.  To do this, I first needed to crop the image again, this time so as close to the actual photograph as I could get.  Once I accomplished this, I next used the rectangular selection tool and used it to highlight the image.  Then, using the keyboard shortcuts, I was able to copy my selected portion of the image and open it in a new Photoshop window.  Once this was done I noticed that the tone and contrast of the image appeared a bit off, so I adjusted both the brightness and the contrast until they were relatively balanced.

Next I opened a new layer and placed it below my current one.  My reasoning for this is so that the new layer that I just opened could contain my background color underneath the photograph.  Next, I chose, for some unknown reason, Red as the color for the background layer.  Once this was done, after opening a new layer, I took the Eraser Tool and after zooming in on the image and selecting the smallest possible size I began to patiently rub the remaining frame away from the image.  Once this was complete, the image was now mounted on a red colored frame. I decide, however, that I needed to add even more color to this picture.  I have no idea why I chose some of the colors that I did, especially when you consider that they seem to clash with the red in some spots. As I went through and applied my imagination to the image, I tried using the Magnetic Selection Tool.  This item proved rather unwieldy in some of the spots and I ended up actually using the brush to color in items such as her dress and her skin etc.  Anyways I will leave you to judge the results for yourselves, as for me well they just seem to make a photograph rather grotesque:


As you can see, the colors make this photograph rather bizarre, I mean she does not even appear as if she is the same person.

My next task for this assignment, and one that I had a much better result with, was the task of turning this poor woman into a vignette.  while I am not particularly fond of the way in which the colorization process turned out I am rather pleased with results.

Here is the picture that I started out with:


Once again, I proceeded to crop the image thereby ridding it of as much of the frame as possible.  Next I proceeded to enlarge the image so that it is easier to vignette.  One the image is enlarged, I then use my rulers to construct a set of guides around a particularly interesting part of the image, in this case her face.  The guides are arranged so that they resemble a box around the desired portion of the photograph to be vignetted.  Next I use my Rectangular Selection Tool to select a portion of the image.  Once the selection is highlighted I modify the selected portion by using the Feathering feature.  In this case I selected a Feathering level of 40.  Once this is complete I next copied the image and then opened a new window in Photoshop.  Once I paste the new image in the window my next task is to expand the canvas upon which my image rests.  Then, after highlighting the image, I use the inverse feature to color in the area surrounding my image.  As I said earlier the results are pretty nifty:


Lastly, here is one more of the vignetting and matting process.  It is a little different from the process used in that rather ridiculously colored picture.  In any event, one of the major differences is that when you use the vignetting process, you need to expand the canvas, which I have done after pasting the image in a new window. Again I used the feathering feature, however, this time after I expanded the canvas and used the inverse feature to fill in my border, I used the crop tool to shrink them down into a manageable size.  Oh, and the only other really subtle change is that in the first image I used the rectangle selection tool and in the image below I used the elliptical.



As stated earlier this can be a rather laborious and time-consuming endeavor,  That being said, as some of these images illustrate, I shudder at the colorized one, which I must say under normal circumstances would under no shape or form be colorized, to protect the historical integrity of the image, the time invested in restoring photographs is a worthy investment.  Moreover it is one that can reap huge rewards.

About civil1863

My name is Richard Smith and I am a Graduate Student at George Mason University. An aspiring historian, I am currently working on my Master's with the hopes that upon graduation I will be able to being my pursuit of a PhD. My areas of concentration lie in American History and are: The Early Republic, Jacksonian and antebellum America, early to mid-nineteenth century politics, territorial expansion and their disputes, the relationship between slavery and the Federal Government, republican ideology and its relation to the American Civil War. I am an avid fan of the American Civil War and have completed internships at both Gettysburg National Military Park and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvainia National Military Park.

5 responses to “Second Assignment: Image Restoration”

  1. Mike Goldfein says :

    Hope everyone in your family is OK. I greatly enjoyed the work you went through to restore the image of the woman. The cropped and squared image of her with the vignetted matte is really well done. I could tell you weren’t happy with the colorized version. No worries. You should post the fruit engraving you were working on as an addition to your colorization portfolio. It was fantastic!

    • civil1863 says :

      Thanks. Thanks for your comments regarding my efforts, I appreciate them. Your right I was not happy with the way the colorizing of the woman turned out. Moreover, I think that the part that irks me the most about it is the red color that I chose as the background for the matting. I have no idea why I picked that color, or thought that the heaviness of the color would go well with the photograph. I must have been thinking about Red Dwarf (its a British Comedy set in space and the color of the ship is, well, that color.) In retrospect I think I should have tried lessening the opacity, or the grade. Maybe even reducing the hardness would of helped. As a background it is distracting from the image, which is where the viewers eyesight should be directed.
      Glad you liked the fruit. Thanks the request. I just posted it now.

  2. Laszlo says :

    Rich, I hope your family is fine too, and I agree with Mike’s comment about the vignetted image. As I was putting mine together, I was thinking about how strange it made my image look. Yours, on the other hand, looks natural and even professional.

    About the woman in the photo, she’s an interesting subject. There’s something about her expression that caught my interest. I’d like to know more about her. Nice choice for an image.

    • civil1863 says :

      Lazlo, thanks.
      I am glad that you thought the vignette was good, I was just relieved that it turned out as a recognizable effort on my part. I appreciate your comments I am glad that you like it. You are right. There is something fascinating about that woman. I wish there was more that I could have gleaned from the Library of Congress’ catalog entry, but unfortunately it said that she has never been identified. I wish I had the time because I am sure that the story that she could tell would be a rather fascinating one.

  3. psmith30 says :

    Hi Rich,
    Wow! That was really great work – both the amazing fruit and the woman! I think her picture is captivating, too. I didn’t try using the magnetic tool. Good to know that you found it not so useful. I like the last version too – just because I think it’s cool and important to experiment in a class like this. You stepped out there. Good for you! Thanks for a great post! I looked at the WWI pictures, too. Thanks for sharing that. Pam

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