A photo restoration project - for Grandma Thelma

Terri

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A bit of background (AKA family lore): my maternal Grandma Thelma died about 20 years ago. Within three years, my grandfather had remarried, still in his 70's. Shoulda/coulda been a scandal, but it was actually quite sweet. ;) Wife #2 died within 5-6 years and had made my grandfather happy.

When Grandpa Clarence eventually died, my mother was thus tasked with going through his belongings. In his wallet, she came across a tiny photo of Grandma Thelma. It looked like something that had come from a photo booth. It was well-worn, creased from being jammed in his wallet for so long. So he never really put away his memories of her. My mom showed it to me...and I got inspired.

Here is what she gave me. I added coins for perspective:

Thelma, coins with picture.jpg



I decided to try to restore and enlarge it. I scanned it at the highest resolution I could. With Photoshop, I cleaned up the creases, scuffs, etc. as best I could, then enlarged the file to 4"x5" - the largest I dared to go from that size, and I sharpened it carefully by increments.

Next, I converted the photo to B&W and adjusted the contrast/values. When I got it looking right, I converted it again to a "negative."


Thelma,  Image Negative.jpg



I then printed the negative onto Pictorico white film paper, which is like a clear polyester. So I then had a 4x5 "negative." Now, the advice is to generally just take these digital negatives and do what's called contact printing - meaning, just place it directly onto your silver gelatin paper, so when you expose it to light the size of the negative is the same size print you'll end up with. But I wanted to push the envelope even more. So, after cutting the negative out carefully, I fit it into a 4x5 film holder and placed it into my enlarger.

I enlarged it to roughly an 8x10 (double the negative size).

Thelma 8x10.jpg


It was soft around the edges, but I knew how to trick the eye a bit. First, I decided to tone the print in a tray of sepia toner for a slight warmup in overall tone:

Thelma, sepia toned.jpg



And then, using Marshall's photo oils and oil pencils, I hand painted it.

Thelma - HC, 1.jpg


It's still soft, of course. But a visual trick with using photo oils is that the lines between colors create a little automatic "sharpening" just by virtue of butting up against each other. I used photo oil pencils to lightly outline the facial details.

I decided to use the same colors from the photo-booth original, as close to a match as I could get. Then I presented it to my mother. We both had a good cry. 😢

It was a fun project, with the outcome being my mom and other family members began sending me more family photos. So I was kept busy with that for some years. It's very intimate and rewarding work, looking into the eyes of your ancestors. 💕
 
You killed it! Great job! I really think I prefer the next to last step though. ❤️🧡💛
 
Thank you for sharing the technical details—something I like to do in my posts as well. It's interesting to see your use of digital as well as physical manipulations to get the final image. This again is typical of my own painting and sculpture workflows.

I hope to see more similar posts from you.
 
You killed it! Great job! I really think I prefer the next to last step though. ❤️🧡💛
Thank you!

Nothing wrong with liking a good sepia toned print. :) It's a process that adds archival stability to silver gelatin prints and that's why we still see so many beautiful images from 100 years ago!

I didn't do a full-on deep tone here. Just wanted to get that slight tonal shift away from the gray before adding skin tones.

Not unlike doing an underpainting, now that I think about it.
 
Thank you for sharing the technical details—something I like to do in my posts as well. It's interesting to see your use of digital as well as physical manipulations to get the final image. This again is typical of my own painting and sculpture workflows.

I hope to see more similar posts from you.
Thank you! I don't want to bore anyone, but I'm with you - I like reading about processes because it expands my understanding. So I tend to give what I like to get.

I'm not a digital photographer, but I sure do appreciate the hybrid workflow that allows for this kind of restoration. It speeds up the process where I end up with something tactile in my hands. :)
 
I prefer the sepia photo, me too. I'm afraid colors aren't natural at all, especially the skin hue. There is a "contrast" with the background and the eyes that were left without colors.

What was done in the past, is that they worked directly on the negative plate with a graphite pencil to enhance contrast and lighting effects and give a better relief to the final positive photo. It seems that this was a very fine work done by specialists. I remember such an old specialist, 40 years ago. At the time I used to go to a photographer's shop where I learned various "secrets" of the photo techniques. He used to come there one or two times a week and do this work on negatives from studio portraits. He worked on a light box. With this technique one could enhance the contrast of the face details in a photo like this. Unfortunately this is a lost art today!

Another option was to use a soft pencil directly on the print to fix details on the face, the clothes or the background, and enhance the photo. So, the result was something between photo and sketch. In fact the sketch part was very small, no more than 5-10% overall.

I love these reproduction/copy techniques. They give an esthetic result much superior than the digital means: true/authentic vs fake.
 
Great info on those old plates - thanks for sharing! Some of those old portraits really do seem like something between photos and sketches.
 
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