Tintype Restoration

February 24, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I just finished a restoration project on a tintype photo.  The photo was from the early 1900's- tintypes were that era's equvalent of a photobooth at a carnival.  The photographer could take the print and quickly develop the image right on a metal plate.  After applying a quick drying clear laquer and inserting the tintype into a paper sleeve an instant photo is delivered to the customer.  This one came to me as a 1 1/2" x 2 1/2" inch metal plate in a paper sleeve marked "Souvenir FROM".  unfortunately the "from" was not filled in, so we can only guess as to where this might have been.  The image is underexposed and has many cracks running through the entire photo.  The cracks are in the finish, not the tin, it is a very sturdy photograph. 

I removed the photo from the paper sleeve and scanned it with my Epson V600 flatbed.  I like the V600 because it has most of the features for professional scanning that are contained in the industry standard V700 for about half the cost.  I use Adobe Photoshop for the major reconstrution and Adobe Lightroom for finishing and management.

The scanned image was quickly brought to proper exposure and it was clear that although there was surface damage the actual photo was in focus and detailed.  A sharply focused and well composed image is much more worthwhile to restore, There is a limit to the ability to correct poor photographic technique.  I rely on a photographer from one hundred years ago to get it right so I can bring it back again.

 I started in on the obvious big dark cracks running through the photo.  I used Photoshop's Spot Healing Brush Tool for the majority of them.  But when the crack meets an obvious change in the image, like going from the background to the dress, I stopped short and used a clone at the seam so that there was not any bleed from one section into the next.  I used the Spot Healing Brush Tool or the Stamp Clone Tool for many of the spots and blemishes. 

As you can see above at this point I have cleared out most of the lines across the faces and bodies of the subjects in the photo.  After I was done with all the lines I went after the spots and blemishes.  I zoomed in tight on small areas of the photo and worked a section at a time until I had most of them cleaned up.  I also had to reconstruct some areas of the face and hands because the healing tools would cause unnatural lines. To reconstruct I would use a very small clone brush and paint the areas back to their normal form using samples from nearby areas.

When I was done with the major work I was left with quite a lot of surface blemishes and dots on the photo- too many and too small to want to hunt and peck down, but I was not satisfied with the overall look with all that surface speckle.  I tried using the Dust and Scratch filter in Photoshop, but that filter even lightly applied caused too much blurring and loss of detail in the subjects.  I compromised by selecting the entire background and excluding the subjects.  I used the Photoshop Dust and Scratch filter on the background, which was out of focus anyway.  I was able to do away with the majority of the blemishes with little work and frustration, while leaving the details intact.

To finish up I added a new border in Photoshop, then in Lightroom I boosted contrast a bit.  The results are below:

So I was able to bring back the details as well as maintain the charm that goes with an old photo.  The original was too dark and blemished to see the details, now you can clearly make out the faces, the clothes, and the setting.  Getting to see these details again is just like a trip back in time, and I enjoy seeing the old photos come to life again.

If you have some old photos waiting to come back to life, contact me- jim@jimprophoto.com


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