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Author Topic: Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film  (Read 13254 times)

Offline Mike Morrell

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Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film
« on: October 16, 2017, 02:39:59 pm »
This is not an urgent topic/question for a photo I'm working on. It's just a thought that occurred to me. I searched the forum on this topic and I know there have been previous discussion dating back to 2008. I wonder whether there's a current 'OPR policy' and how other members deal with 'photos shot on film' in day-to-day restoration work.

I know next to nothing about film photography or about printing from film. Back in the day, I too took snaps on a film camera, had the photos developed and I thought no more about it. The only thing I ever knew was that ISO 100 was fine for outdoors and ISO 400 was better for indoors. Some photos I got back were very dark and others were blown out but luckily most were OK. Whatever I've learned about photography since then has been through using digital cameras and through post-processing that in some way tries to re-create the 'film look'.

For photos shot on film, the WB and color balance were (as far as I know) pretty much determined by the photographer. Through his/her choice of film, lighting, WB (light-source), exposure settings, lens filters, etc. Back then, many professional and amateur photographers did their own development in their personal 'darkrooms'. There were also specialized development/printing labs that could tweak the development and printing. But for most people, their film rolls went to a standard lab, went through a standard process and they received the prints (some good, some less good) that came out of the standard process. Different film manufacturers were known to produce warmer/cooler and more/less colorful film types.

Fast forward to now. We now have scanned photos (originally shot on film) that need restoring. The question is whether we should restore these photos (color, WB, levels) to either
a) the extent that we're now (digitally) able to do, or
b) how they might have looked when they were first printed.

For practical purposes a) is easiest to do while b) is more difficult.

I guess the point of this post is that maybe we don't always need to be quite so rigid on how to (digitally) set black/white/gray points for photos shot on film. The same applies to color balance. It's not always the case that a film photographer would aim for a completely 'neutral' photo. He/she might (via various techniques) aim for a slightly warmer or cooler photo.

When applying the standard OPR WB adjustment guidelines, it might be useful to think about how the photographer would have wanted the photo to come out at that time.

Mike
Musician, Photographer and Volunteer

Offline Lynnya

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Re: Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2017, 03:11:44 pm »
Hi Mike... I think Margie would be the person to answer these questions.. For myself.. I try to restore to what the photographer did.. I've done a couple where part of the photo was blown out by flash or sun and have been advised to leave it that way.. I'ts hard sometimes to not fix the photographic problems we see but the aim is to restore.. I always remember when I first came to opr and I'm not sure who said it now.. "there is a difference between restore and invent".. I'm totally guilty of invention a lot of the time lol.

Anyhow.. Margie will answer your questions..  :up:
never giving up......learning from others as I go...

Offline Mhayes

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Re: Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2017, 11:40:15 pm »
Hi Mike,

To cut to the chase I will address what you ended with: 

Quote
For practical purposes a) is easiest to do while b) is more difficult.

I guess the point of this post is that maybe we don't always need to be quite so rigid on how to (digitally) set black/white/gray points for photos shot on film. The same applies to color balance. It's not always the case that a film photographer would aim for a completely 'neutral' photo. He/she might (via various techniques) aim for a slightly warmer or cooler photo.

When applying the standard OPR WB adjustment guidelines, it might be useful to think about how the photographer would have wanted the photo to come out at that time.

I've never approached restoring a photo with the option of (a) or (b) but rather doing the best job I can to come close to what I think the original might look like. Sometimes the restoration is probably better. When I do a restoration I very seldom do the white, black, and gray points. I may do an auto on Curves or Levels in bring in the sliders. Every volunteer has their way of doing things. I can do those things and not do a radical change to what the original was. Sometimes the water damage has so messed things up that I do a more detailed color correction. I also do various tweaking if I think the photo needs it.

Fast forward to now, we do not have scanned photos as all of ours are shot with digital cameras on stands. Even that can be challenging. I think we stay true to trying to achieve how the photographer did the photo. However, we are not dealing with regular photos that might have changed with age; we are dealing with photos that have had water damage, mold, and sometime chemical and sewage added to the mix. I won't even begin to go with thinking how the photographer would have wanted the photo to come out--no way of knowing, except for those who have taken home photos and are thrilled with the final results.

At no point do we require the setting of black/white/gray points as I mentioned earlier. I do not think we are rigid in that regard as we are more interested in the final results. The Forum lets volunteers show how they got there--their choice. Are we rigid? Yes, but only that the finished photo is the best we could get it. Even then, the final inspection is Quality Control. If you are looking for easy, pick an easy photo, for difficult pick one that takes more work. Your choice.  I think you miss the whole point of the Forum and that is volunteers sharing and having fun. Not us establishing some rigid system of how things must be done. Yes, color correction is a must do.

Margie
« Last Edit: October 17, 2017, 07:06:50 am by Mhayes »
"carpe diem"

Margie Hayes
OPR President
mhayes@operationphotorescue.org

Offline Tori803

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Re: Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2017, 01:18:52 am »
Hi Mike,

I think you're getting bogged down in technicalities that aren't particularly relevant. Whether a photo was captured on film or sensor chip, whether the photographer knew what he or she was doing or was an amateur capturing a fun family moment, we, as restoration artists, can't duplicate that. We can't recreate the moment, and at best we could only guess at what they wanted to capture or create, which means we could easily guess wrong. So we don't worry about what the original goal was, only what was accomplished in the photo.

It's critical to understand the difference between 'restoring' and 'retouching.' Most people who are taught Photoshop are taught retouching techniques- how to make the model look better, how to fix problems with lighting, how to add or remove objects. But in restoration our goal is not to make a photo better. We want to make it what it was. Sometimes, as Margie said, we inadvertently make it better.

Consider an amateur photo of a wedding taken indoors under fluorescent light. It likely had a green cast to it originally. Unless the photographer used a flash, or a filter. But when I restore it I know human flesh isn't green, so if I see a green cast I'll adjust the color accordingly. Should I? It's simply my best guess at what the photo was.

But what if a photo includes a sunset? If the colors look colder, should I make them warmer? No, I'll have to rely on the clues that Photoshop gives me in a Levels adjustment, because I wasn't there when the photo was taken, and can't know what the photographer intended. But that's what the tools in Photoshop are for, to find the information that's still in the photo. For the information that's gone we have to get carefully creative.

To do that we use whatever digital tools work. If setting the white/gray/black points works to give us color balance or contrast, great! But if it doesn't work, we'll do something else. You'll see some really creative work on the Forum, and some attempts that just fall flat. The point of the Forum is share ideas for what might work, not to invent a perfect work flow, because there isn't one. What there is is the information in the photo, the digital tools in Photoshop, and the support of the volunteers on the Forum.

One other thing we have to help us is the vast experience of the distributors. Don't forget that all the photos we restore they review. Many thousands of them. So their suggestions and reminders are based on solid ground, and meant to help, not to hinder. And given with the greatest appreciation for all the time and effort every volunteer gives!

Tori
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." -Calvin Coolidge

Offline Mike Morrell

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Re: Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2017, 11:25:15 am »
Many thanks to Lynnya, Margie and Tori for your detailed comments!

I'm learning a lot from the forum - it's wonderful!. I should take more time to explore the tutorials and past projects. I humbly retract using words like 'rigid' when applying the 'standard guidelines'. Personally, I find the 'standard guidelines' very helpful. But it's good to know that there's some flexibility.

I agree with the aim of 'creating the best restore'. And of getting feedback on the forum on getting to that.

Maybe I just got sidetracked into wondering about differences between 'film' and 'digitally restored'. You're all right in that for practical purposes, we do the best we can.
Mike
Musician, Photographer and Volunteer

Offline Tori803

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Re: Digital color/WB/Levels correction of photos shot on film
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2017, 06:36:28 pm »
No problem Mike! It would be nice to know more about the photos we work on, especially, 'Where was this taken?'  :)
Tori
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." -Calvin Coolidge