David Lavelle

Victorian Tea Party

This page contains several before/after comparisons. Drag the arrows horizontally in either direction and view the changes between the two images. If you would like me to restore your photos send me an email. I can offer discounts for larger quantities.

Full restoration in Photoshop

In December 2018 I bought a job lot of vintage photographs on eBay, with the intention of restoring some of the worst images to demonstrate my skills in this area.¬†This photo is one of the most damaged in the pile, and a prime candidate to show off what I can do. The scene it depicts, a tea party where the men wait on the women and children, is likely Victorian or Edwardian. Interestingly it doesn’t appear to be an original print, but a print of a print, mostly likely one of many copies for distribution or as a preservation print.

There were many problems to fix: tears, creases, holes, aged-related foxing and corrosion, severe emulsion damage, discolouration, chemical streaks and spillages, dirt, scratches, dust and loss of major details. Successful repair relies on many factors: available time and budget, a very high resolution scan (1200dpi is my preferred minimum for medium to large images, 2400dpi for small), usable detail elsewhere in the image, copies of other images of the subject taken at the same time (these can sometimes yield useful picture information), the sharpness of the original image and the optical perception of the viewer. As Terry, the chef at Fawlty Towers once said, “what the eye don’t see, the chef gets away with.”

Close-ups of the repairs

The following close-ups demonstrate some of the more extreme challenges. It would be very easy to get lost in the kind of detail shown here – in practice the best approach is to fix the most obvious issues, then move onto the smaller details if they’d be visible at the resolution or print size needed. The tiniest details can either be touched up if they’re obvious at a distance, or left alone.

1. Missing detail

This area exhibits severe damage to the surface of the print, likely a chemical spillage or contact damage from another object at the time of production, resulting in discolouration and the loss of critical detail around the shoulder and face. This kind of damage can’t easily be fixed using the standard automated tools so most of it had to be fixed by hand, using cloning and blending to cover the worst of it.

2. Partially obscured detail

Again, this close up reveals damage caused by the processing chemicals, this time affecting the boy’s face. Hand-drawn repairs restore most of the missing detail, but as there is no other reference imagery available it can only be an approximation. Close up, there still appears to be some variation in colour, but when zoomed out to reveal the full image most of the optical effect of the colour variation simply disappears.

3. Yet more chemical damage

This is easier to repair as it mostly covers non-essential picture information, and cloned areas can be used to cover the problem. In practice it’s unlikely that a repair of this nature would be viewed in close-up, and when viewed from a distance the repair is virtually seamless.

4. Random discolouration

This section showed a lot of damage covering a relatively unimportant area of the image, again probably due to a spillage of chemicals during processing. Due to the lack of usable surrounding picture detail the repair was done by creating a soft-edged mask, and a colour wash sampled from the main image was overlaid onto the damage, using an overlay filter so only the lighter mid-tone was corrected. It can never be a seamless repair, but it does help to minimise the damage, and allow the viewer to focus on the main scene.

5. Creases, tears and holes

The print wasn’t looked after particularly well over the years, and there are many creases and tears, thankfully mainly confined to non-essential areas of the image. There are several areas where the top layer of the print has been stripped away from the substrate, leaving white holes and sharp creases. As these areas are mainly grass it was a simple job to repair them using soft-edged sections from other parts of the image.