Restoring Antique Photographs

Mom and I

Mom and I

Last week I received an email from a reader about damage that had been done to a photograph that was precious to her. Here is the email:

Dear Johanne: I recently had a flood at my house and an 80 yr old photo of my mother as a baby was damaged. It appears to be a sepia print that has been enhanced with oil pastels. Do you have any idea what the cost would be to restore such a print. It is approximately an 11×14 in an original oval frame.

Here was my answer to her – and to anyone who has ever experienced this.

Patricia: I’m so sorry to hear about the damage to your Mom’s picture. I know just how precious those old photographs are – especially when the pictures are of people that are no longer with us.

There are two options as I see it: You can take your picture to a restorer specializing in paintings and paper artifacts. Of course this would be quite expensive. If you can afford to go that route then I would check with your local or regional museum or art gallery for names of people who do this kind of work.

A less expensive option is one I have had experience with myself. You take your picture to a studio that specializes in restoring photos – but they don’t work on the actual photograph. The original is photographed with a digital camera and transferred to a computer. The operator works with special software to “repair” the damage pixel by pixel. One drawback of doing it this way occurs when the original picture is under curved glass – and the image is curved as well. A certain amount of distortion happens when photographing the image.

Once the photograph is “repaired” it is printed and given to you. The original still has the damage. It is quite amazing what can be done – but it takes skill and patience on the part of the operator. Before you choose someone to work on the photograph ask to see examples of their work. If they don’t have a portfolio then go elsewhere.

A favorite doll

A favorite doll

2 responses to “Restoring Antique Photographs

  1. Why wouldn’t a restorer take the photograph out of the frame and scan it??? That’s what I would do. Then the repairs can be made in PhotoShop. It is still time consuming.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what they do however what I was taking about was those oval pictures with bubble glass. Even if the picture is out of the frame the picture is still curved. It was shaped to fit the bubble glass. If the picture you have in one of these frames is flat – it is not the original. When the photographer takes a digital image of the picture that needs restoring the curve of the picture creats some distortion. Curved pictures were meant to create a more 3D effect. And yes, software that is a professional version of PhotoShop is exactly what is used to “repair” the picture – but the original is not touched with this particular method.

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