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Philosophical (but Practical) Question On Repairs

Started by drcode, June 23, 2006, 01:12:00 PM

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I was wondering how people approach the issue of difficult photo repairs from a philisophical standpoint...

I'm sure some of you heard about the controversies about the restaurations in the Sistine Chapel... It had been "restored" many times in the past centuries by persons who had the following paradigm in mind:

     "Make it look pretty, new, and undamaged"

This means they spent a lot of time covering up damage and "cleaning" the paintings by overpainting spots that looked like they had aged. This made the paintings look newish, but removed a lot of the initial detail and intent by the original artist, Michelangelo.

Twenty years ago, when a more academic team restored the Chapel, they spent most of their time simply removing the "damage" caused by previous restaurations. Their paradigm was:

    "Preserve the intent of the source material as much as possible. Only make additive restaurations if there is damage so severe that it detracts from the viewer's ability to appreciate the work as a whole"

So what they did is mainly just remove non-original paint specs from the chapel (with a microscope!) and filled in areas beyond repair with large, unicolor blocks that were made to be obviously not original but prevented those areas from destroying the aesthetic experience.

So my question is... which of the above approaches should be the standard for an OPR restauration? I often have to decide on specific damaged areas whether I just "make it pretty" or I leave the damage partially visible but preserve more of the source material.

Using the "make it pretty" approach, the picture tends to have a "painted" look to it (you know what I'm talking about if you've seen certain restauration attempts)

Using the "academic" approach, the scene and persons in the picture can be enjoyed with maximal accuracy, but there are some marks remaining in the picture that make it clear that some damage existed in the original picture.

How does everyone feel about this difficult issue?


I for one try to keep as much origional detail in the picture as possible when i try to restore pictures, but i also try to repair damage to what i think it should look like, this may take several tries, with time to go away and evaluate in between, so i guess i appreciate both points of veiw, but understand that there is a time for both to be used.


Due to time constraints, I haven't been able to help out with the images, however, I'm very interested in this project (just registered today).

I think this is an important topic. I've been restoring images for some time, and from that experience, I would say most "customers" like to have an improved image. However, in the case of this project, I would say, it depends on the image.  By default, I would restore these to the state they were in before the damage.  Fixing the damage will restore the image to the state the owner remembers. With a few exceptions, trying to make a "better" image is, to me, more in the realm of retouching.


My opinion ...

It's a two fold problem to deal with and it is made infinitely more difficult because we're not dealing directly with the individual whose picture we're working on. So ...

Fold one. Generally speaking I think backgrounds can be worked on with a fairly liberal license to do whatever makes it look good. Naturally if there are any clues, follow them in reconstruction, but if it's all just destroyed image, just about any reconstruction will do. The problem with this approach is that every once in a while that background may actually have equal or more significance to the owner of the photo than the actual subject. Maybe it's their destroyed house back there and some stranger in the foreground. They really don't care that much about Joe Blow, they just want to see their house again.

Fold two. The subject in the foreground has to be treated with the maximum respect for image integrity. Although pictures may infrequently be deemed important for their backgrounds as described above, the vast majority of them will be of people important and well known to the owner of the photo. I believe it is very important to use the absolute minimum of artistic talent and the maximum amount of restorative talent in an attempt to bring back the original data while removing the offending damage.

I've done this process for friends on the odd occasion and when they bring me photos for repair I always ask for an intact photos of individuals who appear in the damaged photos. On rare occasions the intact photo can actually be used to "repair" the damaged one. More often though, it has to simply stand in as a guide as to what the individual in the damaged version actually looks like so when it's necessary to resort to painting in features totally destroyed, you are at least doing so knowing what that individual actually looks like.

That is an option we don't usually have here with OPR. Occasionally there may be a group of family photos and some family members may appear intact in one version and be in the damaged part of another photo to be restored, but that is going to happen very rarely.

So, my thoughts are play fast and loose with the background and use the absolute minimum of pure creativity when dealing with the subjects of the photos.


I think of restoration as just that, restore to the original condition.  Don't retouch unnecessary things just to make it pretty.  I try to keep everything in the original style of the photo.  One restoration I did for practice, had a watercolor background.  I tried to keep the restored areas in the same style.  It's impossible to anticipate what is important to the owner of the photo, and I don't want to change something that would impact their memories.  Now, having said that, I don't have a problem with reconstructing an ear, replacing a hand, etc.  If I need to borrow from other photos, I will, but I want those parts to blend, so that you can't tell that they were 'borrowed'.  I also believe in improving contrast, color casts, etc. while doing restorations, but I don't want to totally replace a background if I don't have to. 

I guess it boils down to I try to restore, not retouch.
If it's artsy or Photoshop, I'll give it a try!
aka Betty


I think Rickvg pretty much nailed it. If people want the pictures retouched they can always come back and ask for it on this forum, i for one wouldnt mind douing a couple of those :)
But this isnt a free retouch projeckt, its a restoration projeckt which some of us need to remind ourself before going overbord on an image.
To put it harsh i would rather leave them a little damedge photo, than a drawing/painting ;)


Quote from: Risici on June 24, 2006, 07:50:55 PM
I think Rickvg pretty much nailed it. If people want the pictures retouched they can always come back and ask for it on this forum, i for one wouldnt mind douing a couple of those :)
But this isnt a free retouch projeckt, its a restoration projeckt which some of us need to remind ourself before going overbord on an image.
To put it harsh i would rather leave them a little damedge photo, than a drawing/painting ;)

I agree. Sometimes making things "too perfect" has the opposite effect (and is detrimental to the image) - however I think these instances it should be a case by case basis - whatever makes it look the best, over perfect, and there is a difference.  Lets face it, often we have face to face clients who can tell us what they want - here it's up to our best judgement.

Mark Wilson

Personally, I always view "painted" restorations as a clear sign of someone who is trying their best, but is clearly out of their depth on that particular restoration project.

It is quite often necessary to use guesswork and to paint/airbrush in elements or steal them from another image. There is often no other way, cloning missing sections sometimes just doesn't cut it. But it should NEVER be immediately obvious that these areas were not part of the original image. If you can look at a restored photo and instantly spot the repairs, then you've failed in your task.

The most common errors I see are:

  • Grain or noise in the painted areas do not match the rest of the photo
  • Added shadows are the wrong colour. Shadows are very seldom black
  • The softness/sharpness of the existing edges are not matched in the new areas
  • Contours of, for example, facial structures, just look wrong because of poor shading

Certainly any images that fall into the 'Hard' category require a degree of artistic ability, or at the very least an artistic eye. But, anyone who wants to ramp up their restoration skills should first become their own sternist critic.

"There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs." - Ansel Adams 1902-1984.