Restoring, Preserving, and Digitizing Old Photographs
Photographs can be lost due to catastrophic events, improper care and environmental damage. They can become faded, scratched or torn. Even stored photos may deteriorate over time. Restoring, preserving and digitizing old photographs can save them for future generations to enjoy.
Photographs capture our memories, as well as our histories. Old photographs are often passed from generation to generation, creating an informal family history.
Because of the importance of photographs to memory and history, restoring photographs has become important for many. However, although restoring photographs was once a tedious task, advances in photo technology and digital media make preserving photos a much easier process.
Restoring Old Photographs
With the advent of the personal computer, image editing software and hardware (such as scanners and specialized photo printers), restoring photographs has become easier. Even an amateur can create a professional looking restoration.
Depending on the type and extent of the damage of the photo, you may have to purchase photo-editing software with specialized features. Damage that tends to require additional software, like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Adobe Photoshop, includes:
- important pieces missing from a photo
- scratches in the photo
- water stains
- wrinkles in crucial places.
Most damage, however, can be fixed with a scanner, a printer and the basic software included with that hardware. Standard restoration needs include:
- color correction
- cropping unnecessary elements of the photo.
The following are the steps involved in restoring photographs:
- Place the old photograph on the scanner.
- Set the scanner’s settings (see your scanner’s guide for more information).
- Scan the photograph.
- Make corrections using the software.
- Save a digital copy of the photograph.
- Print a new, restored copy of the photograph.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. The beauty of digitization is that you can start over if you don’t like the outcome. With patience and practice, you’ll soon get amazing results.
Preserving New and Old Photos
Restoring your old photographs is the first step in preserving them. The next step involves preserving the originals so they don’t incur any more damage. Direct sunlight, adhesives, high humidity, insects and even photo albums can cause photos to fade or become damaged in many ways.
Experts recommend the following methods for preserving photos, both new and old:
- Arrange photographs on archival paper pages and mount them with archival photo corners. Insert these pages into clear Mylar pockets.
- Avoid storing old photographs in areas of high humidity where they can be affected by mold.
- Keep displayed photos out of direct sunlight.
- Place photos that you don’t plan to display in portfolio or storage boxes made from specialized archiving materials.
- Use clear plastic sleeves made of polyester or polypropylene to store the photos.
Storage and Retrieval
If you’ve ever downloaded photographs from you digital camera, you’ve probably noticed that each one has an identifying code that’s little help in identifying its content. Fortunately, changing the code to a title such as “Tuscany, Summer 2006″ is incredibly easy.
When restoring your old photos, you have a unique opportunity to catalog your pictures in a way that makes retrieval a breeze. Figure out how you want to store them. Will you be looking for dates, family groups, events, subjects or a combination of these?
Most types of software and online services for storing photographs include a feature that helps you sort them into albums. Again, picking thoughtful and descriptive titles will help your search through hundreds of old photographs for the exact one that you need.
A single photograph can be copied into several albums if it meets the criteria for various groupings.
Some restoration projects may require the services of an expert. Don’t hesitate to put delicate and important photos and documents in the hands of a restoration specialist and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about restoration while you’re at it.
Meanwhile, make backup a habit. Copy your digitized photographs onto a CD or web site so that your photo archives aren’t lost in a hard drive crash.
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