Monday, December 14, 2009

Making light of troubles

While Garrondo and I were discussing the Photoshop curves tool last night he asked me to blog this restoration as an example.  It depicts a pair of Balinese dancers and dates from 1929.  The photograph also has a lot of other distracting elements, so let's fast forward to the completed restoration and then concentrate on a few points.  Here's wishing the actual editing went so quickly; it actually took a day and a half.

The most difficult part of this restoration was not the obvious marks and streaks.  It was the tall flower on the right dancer's headdress.  The dust specks weren't so hard to remove; the problem was what to do with all that streaky low contrast bands which intersected it.  Compare it to another flower at far left: the unrestored versions appear so different that side by side, they hardly look like they both come from the same photograph.

Regardless of what caused the streaking (I've got several guesses), the first question was whether to correct for it.  So work began by getting rid of the spots specks, while leaving the streaks unaltered.  Sat back for a view of that version and decided the streaks really needed to go; they served no visible function other than distraction from the primary subjects.

The next phase of editing didn't try to create a totally even background.  I didn't want to alter much adjacent to the dancers themselves.  One of the few areas where background absolutely had to be patched near a costume element, though, was that darn flower.  Used the clone stamp at a low hardness setting to get a natural effect.  Afterward several brightness adjustment masks reduced the starkness of the differences between portions of the image.  Also enhanced contrast at the rose, which ultimately meant re-cloning the background in that area.

The final result on that flower might be a smidgeon too contrasty.  Yet considering what there was to work with, it was a pleasure to see it come this far.

Another aspect of this restoration was really gratifying at the end, although it's subtle enough that it's scarcely the first thing to catch anyone's eye.  In the original photograph the face on the dancer at right is slightly overexposed.

To see the difference a curves adjustment makes, here's a view of her as she looked after all the edits except for the curves adjustment had been completed.  There's a blandness and flatness about her; it's hard to catch her expression.

Now have a look at how the curves tool brings out the midtones.  Her face is still youthful but less like putty; more personality shows.  And the intricate contours of her headdress and shoulder band become more noticeable.

Restoration can be tedious work.  An image such as this one has so many obvious flaws that one runs the risk, out of exhaustion, of shortchanging the final adjustments.  I wish I knew the name of the somber young dancer in this photograph.  Those eyes look like she saw a lot of life at an early age.


myletterstoemily said... informative and illuminating.

thank you

Buster Stronghart said...

thanks for an hour of very interesting, if incomprehensible for me, information.

Wisewebwoman said...

I make it a little fetish to click on "next blog" on my blog toolbar. And today, I find you and your wonderful restoration projects and insights.
The Balinese girl is haunting, are there tears in her eyes?
Maybe wearing all that gear is just too much weight for her!
Great blog!

Erin B. McGann said...

The restoration is beautiful! What a fantastic picture.

Leanne said...

interesting work and very well done

Kaylan said...

Just found your blog. Very interesting reading your photo restoration techniques. I did not realize the work it takes to restore old photos. I am guessing that beautiful dancer is dead by now given her location. She probably had a very difficult existence.

david said...

If I were to wager a guess at why, I’d say that users don’t “browse” forms. The interaction style users engage in with forms is different, and requires its own study and design best practices.

online job

iStyle Magazine said...


Dave Woods said...

Being a dancer is unmistakably an appreciated profession

p_courtney said...

wonderfully enlightening.
the girls are touches of that pure, almost innocent beauty.

*Gillian* said...

so you're totally sure the bindis are traditional Balinese, not just blemishes?

Pierre A said...

I use the GIMP, rather than photoshop, but that has always come with the defect of somewhat inadequate documentation. Your article takes me through some of the mysteries that I had never before understood. Many thanks.

Lise Broer said...

A lot of good restoration work gets done in GIMP. During the last couple of years the improvements to that program are giving Photoshop a run for its money. Am looking forward to seeing how it develops. There are still a few advantages to being a Photoshop user, but would be interested in shifting to the free software option when it develops a little more.

stargirl supernova said...

hi there, i'm an indonesian. it's my first visit to your blog and i was surprised to see this lovely photo. thank you for posting it.

while indonesia is predominantly muslim, bali island is predominantly hindu. so they wear bindis on the forehead.

keep up the good work:)

Lise Broer said...

Hi Stargirl Supernova, we're looking to follow this up with an exhibit about Indonesian history and culture via the Tropenmuseum of Amsterdam. Just for you, my next blog post will also be about an Indonesian restoration.