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As I am about to embark on one of my last projects before the holidays, I have been thinking about this question.
What are the Options?

When looking to preserve old photographs, there are two main options.

1) Preserve and/or restore the original photograph.
2) Digitize and possibly digitally “restore” the image. (Is THIS process really restoration – that’s the question here.)

* * *

1) Preserve and Restore the Original

If you want to do this, find a reputable expert. Bull City Art & Frame Company have an expert and can give you the reference. This process involves stabilizing and repairing the original photograph so that it will look its best and be preserved for the future.

This is NOT what I do.

2) Digitize and Digitally “Restore” (Edit) the Image

This is the process I do sometimes. I sort of fell into doing this a few years ago with my photo editing training as well as my interest in old photographs and history as well as my experience and training in handling fragile and old objects, such as photographs.

First I digitize the image either on one of my flatbed scanners or using my camera.

Next, I edit the digital copy using Photoshop and Lightroom. I do most of the work with a digital tablet and pen, which allow me to work with precision and (digitally) by hand.

There is an App for That!

Oh yes, there is! Google’s new PhotoScan app is designed so that ANYone can digitize and edit a photograph. Is it a substitute for getting the years of training and experience – or hiring someone who has the training and experience? I would say absolutely not, but judge for yourself.

Examples

I’ve put an example I did via flatbed scanner, digital tablet & pen, Photoshop, and Lightroom, vs. a version I did in just a few seconds with the PhotoScan app. What do you think? Click on the images to see them larger.
But What about Other Software? This Can’t be THAT Difficult!

Scanned aerial image

Scanned with Professional Flatbed Photo Scanner

Scanned with PhotoScan App

Scanned on My Phone with PhotoScan App

There are other software options out there. I’ve tried some, but I always come back to doing the process digitally “by hand” with the tablet and pen. This gives greater control and allows me to edit images without losing detail – something often caused by the various automatic or semi-automatic software options.

In fact, I suspect that someone else used such software with one of my clients while I was away because she came back to me when I returned and paid to have me re-do the restoration. She said there was no comparison.

I tell you that not as an example of my work, but as an example of the difference between a job done by hand and a job done in an automated fashion by software.

Is the Digital Process Restoration, and Why is that Important?

As the original photograph is not being repaired or even altered in any way, I would say that this is merely digitization and editing work rather than restoration. Why is this important? The North Carolina tax laws just changed this summer. It used to be that repair and restoration work was tax exempt as labor. Now it is taxable. Hence the importance of this distinction. Physical photo restoration would be subject to NC sales tax, but the labor of editing, as far as I can tell, is not. Until they change the law again. And the taxman gets the usual sales tax on all of the prints made of the newly edited image, so I hope that keeps him happy for a while. [Update: The tax man always wins – editing work is now taxable!]

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