Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Christmas Gift

My siblings and I stopped swapping Christmas gifts a few years ago so we could focus on spoiling each other's children instead.  Since we've made that decision (and since I have no children of my own, ie. much more free time then the rest), my tradition has been to make something for my two sisters and brother.  This usually ends up being some sort of compilation of the pictures and/or home videos I'd taken of their kids throughout the past year.  (I'm not a knitter or at all into potpourri.)  However, this year's crop of photography came up short on some kids with an excess of others, and barely any home videos to boot.

Then, while skimming through some of my mom's old photo albums featuring us as kids, I came upon the "brilliant" idea of scanning our old family photos, restoring them as best I could and burning each sibling a DVD so we could all have access to the family albums.

I'm still convinced this was a brilliant idea, but seeing that it's now January 14th and I'm not done yet... it may have been an overly ambitious one.

Here's some things I've learned about photo restoration.  (P.S. I'm not working with any fancy-schmancy Photoshop or professional computer program.  Just the basic editing tools that came with my standard Windows Vista package.)

1.)  Black and white matte photos from the 1940's-60's are a dream to work with!  They scan great and crisp up real nicely with a little contrast and sharpening help.

2.)  1960's-70's color matte prints spruce up great too!  Alot of these seemed to scan with a purplish tint though, so tint and color adjustment can be necessary.  Faded prints can be brought back to vibrancy with contrast and saturation adjustments, but sometimes this can lead to a Warhol-esque effect.  (I kinda like that though...)

3.)  Once the film world turned to glossy prints, aged photos got a lot trickier to deal with.  I'm finding glossy prints from the late 70's and entire 80's to be a bit harder to fix the color on.

This is with full green tint!  You should have seen the "before"!
 4.)  Some faded prints are impossible to work with.  No amount of contrast, sharpening or color work seems to fix the pea soup wash that doesn't want to leave.  With these, I'm just turning down the saturation (to lessen the pea soup effect) and sticking with the faded look.

5.)  80's film sharpens nice, but once you've sharpened facial features with happy results, you'll see a thousand scratches that have accumulated over the years and every trace of Scotch tape that your mom used in making the album.  This is when I discovered Windows Live Photo Gallery has a "retouch" editing tool (and there hasn't been an honest zitless, crow's feetless picture of me published to Facebook since this discovery was made.)

Scotch tape and dark curtains that show every scratch. My mortal enemies!
Wood grain furniture with plaid cushions.  A retouching tool's nightmare!
1985, the year of the unicorn.  AND, dark denim that shows every scratch!
This one restored nicely, but was simply too cute not to share.

And, that's where my progress has left off.  In the middle of the 80's with a scratch-removal induced migraine.  Three-and-a-half albums down, half of one to go!

Well, I guess I could use this three-day weekend to get back to work on the project instead of just blogging about it.  Then maybe my siblings will get to see the finished product by the time the Easter Bunny comes around.

If you have a scanner (mine's just an el cheapo from Target) and any basic photo editing tools, retouching your old photos is not out of reach.  If you're not sure what your basic computer system has to offer, open one of your recent digital pictures and click "edit" to see what options it gives you.  "Sharpening" turned out to be my biggest savior, but I know some older versions of Windows only have the basic Contrast/Saturation/Tint, etc. package.  Wonders can still be done with these basic tools!  All you need is a little free time to experiment and a bucket-load of patience.

Once your old photos are downloaded to your computer you can share them with the world!  Or, just your family, or hog them to yourself... it's up to you.  The kids love it when I burn an album to DVD so they can watch themselves on tv.  Having your pictures digitized opens the door to emailing them, uploading them to your favorite sites, or simply restoring them so you can print off new copies for framing or scrapbooking.

Alot has changed in the picture-taking world since we were young.  But, to me, photos of any kind are still the greatest family heirlooms.

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