Category Archives: Restoration

Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.


Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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How to remove reflections from a glass case

Reflections are normally a very nice thing to have in a picture. They can add quite a bit of visual interest to an image with colors, textures and shapes. But, you do not always want a reflection. For example, I was the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford taking some pictures and I want a very close up detail shot of some engravings on a musical instrument. The problem was that while I could shoot the instrument with my G11, it was encased in glass and the ambient light made for horrible reflections and I could not find any position to get rid of them.

You can see the reflections in the image below. This is the unaltered image straight from the G11

Reflections before edits

So now I have image loaded into Lightroom and I’m really wondering what I can do about the reflections. I’m looking at the image and it dawns on me that I might be able to “paint” the reflections out by using a couple of techniques. I mean, the reflections really do not lose the subject underneath, they have just “faded” it a bit.

With that thought in mind, I first applied a graduated filter to the right side to bring down the exposure a bit. I started at the lower right corner and went at roughly a 45 degree angle. I flipped the image to B/W by a simple desaturation of the colors. I brought up the black point a bit overall and also brought the whites.

Things were looking better but not perfect yet. So into Photoshop we go from Lightroom. Once in CS4, I added an exposure layer and darkened up the gamma a touch. This brought the transparent blacks from the reflection more in line with the normal blacks in the rest of the image. I put a layer mask on it and used my Wacom to brush out the adjustment on the whites leaving the blacks nice and dark. As a final enhancement, I applied a high pass filter to the image and put the opacity at 70%,

The results of all this mucking around is shown below. No reflections, nice clean whites and the details of the engravings are easily seen.

After Edits

I now have my reflectionless picture with the clear detail I wanted. The best part is that even just feeling my way around only took about 30 minutes to clean up this image. Next time it will go faster since I already have a good set of steps to draw from.

Some of you will be saying that I did not keep the color, yes, you are correct. The original art is black and white so I did not “need” color, I needed black and white. This trick will be somewhat selective in how you can use but the basic idea transfer even if the image really is in color.

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Image Recovery or how to restart your heart

Card Error! – Two words that strike terror in the heart of a digital shooter. In the old days, it was opening the camera after supposedly rewinding the film and see film still there. But now days with the blessing of technology, we get a bit spoiled in thinking that since the widget is “digital”, it should be perfect every time. But it’s not perfect every time, sometimes the card has issues, the camera has issues or the person running it all has issues and the pictures are not readily accessible.

Unlike in the old days of film, I’ve only had ONE digital card (SD card) go bad enough to where I could not get the images off the card, even with the help of a specialized forensics lab trying also. I have had several times where I had to use special software to recover images and for the most part, the software works pretty well.

The recovery of images is not any different than recovery of files from a hard disk since the flash card appears to be a hard disk to the camera and computer. They are typically formatted in FAT32 though the older cameras use FAT16 and trying to mix n’match between these two formats leads to problems. FAT32 has been around a long time and is pretty reliable overall. The reliability is enhanced for our needs here by most camera manufacturers taking a short cut when we say “Format” the card by just erasing the root directory and not the entire card. So when you accidentally format a card with images, it’s a small matter for the software to go and scan each block of data looking for specific signatures that indicate JPEG files, RAW files, TIFFs and so on. You wont get the original name back, but you will get the image back. That is how it works in the simplest form.

Corrupted Image

Corrupted Image

This image was corrupted by using

What happens if the image is corrupted? Where a bit or two or three is not what it should be and now the image looks like it has grey blocks or streaks through it, or weird color bands through the image? or the image is unreadable for Lightroom, Photomechanic or your editor of choice? It becomes alot tougher to recovery anything usable. Alot depends on how you saved the images when you shot them. For example, for those of us that shoot RAW, there is a JPEG that is created and kept in the RAW file unbeknownst to many photographers. When I had a card go bad on me and corrupt 90% of the images on that card, I had shot RAW and so I used a tool called “File Juicer” for OSX to recover that JPEG out of the corrupted RAW file. It was not perfect but it was enough to let me recover about 95% of the shoot. I do not know of a similar tool for those on Windows. With FileJuicer, you just drop the RAW file onto the application and let it go. Like magic you will have some folders with the extracted text and JPEG. Here are some screen shots of File Juicer in action on a NEF (Nikon RAW) file.

File Juicer

File Juicer Application

file juicer results

File Juicer Results

juicer file list

Juicer File List from RAW file

It does not get much easier than this to recover a JPEG from a RAW file, even a corrupted one. There are numerous recovery applications for getting images off a formatted or dying flash card. My personal favorite is Sandisk’s own application called “Rescue Pro”. It has worked for me many times where others have not faired as well. You can find out more about it here. I got my copy with the purchase of some flash cards a while back.


Sandisk File Recovery Utility

None of these tools will help you if you have overwritten the files by new files and you do not have any back up. All you can hope for is that you can recover some files from space not written to by the new files.

I will say this, flash cards are alot tougher than people give them credit for being. I personally have run two of them through a wash cycle (dont ask) and they were fine afterwards. I still use them in fact but not for paid shoots 🙂 I just read a piece about a couple’s point and shoot getting dredged up from the ocean bottom by a fisherman and he was able to read the card, post the recovered images and reunite the couple with their up to then, lost images. Imagine, months in saltwater and still readable.. amazing but I hope not to have to test this one myself. There are some basic rules to avoid having to test any of this advice due to user error.

The best rule to remember is ALWAYS format the card in the camera it will be used in. Do not trust anything else’s formating tools or the factory formating.

The second best rule is to NEVER delete images from the camera, just keep shooting and delete them in your image workflow software.

A third guideline is to buy the fastest card your camera needs. Not that YOU need but the one that the camera can really use. Using a slow card in a fast writing camera is asking for trouble. Even more so when writing large files like RAW files. JPEGs are about 1/3 the size of a RAW or even smaller so there is more forgiveness there in writing to a slow card.

A trick if you are recovering a damaged card and you use a Mac. Make a image file from the card very first thing. This will let you work from a bit for bit copy of the data instead of a slowly failing card. You can use OSX’s disk utility tool to make this image file. File Juicer has this built into the tool as a menu option, yet another reason to buy File Juicer.

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Get the YELLLOW out!

We have all seen this, the early color snaps with the gawd awful yellow tint, banding, splotching or all the above. The chemicals used then were not archival by any means nor were the colors in the actual print. So between the chemicals breaking down and the dyes breaking down, the poor print does not have a chance of staying pristine or even likable.

I have a client who gave me 8 photo albums of old prints that are tagged to which she wants scanned. The first four were black and whites from the 30s and up to the early 50s. Then I hit the color prints. Ugh.. some where not too bad but many were just awful with the yellow peril. It took the better part of an hour to work out how to get rid of it and to script it since the normal level adjustment was not working at all.

I have some pictures below showing the method I came up which fuses LAB adjustments to RGB adjustments. The trick is to find the channel in LAB that has the crap to be cleaned up. On 99% of the color prints I’m working on, this is channel B in LAB. So we need to neutralize the yellow in the B channel only then color balance the print.

Here is the start after I tried a normal levels adjustment
After normal levels attempt

Going in LAB mode and then looking at each channel to find the bad one

color before channel B adjustment

Ahhh.. here we go.. channel B has the bad data so thats the one we need to tweak

Removing B channel

One curve applied to B channel only. Fixed things right up

curves adjustment on B channel

Pretty done at this point. I can clean up the wall some more but it is really good enough for what the client wants to do with it.

Finished print

So what ended up doing since I had over 100 of these to do is to script the steps from flipping to LAB mode and applying the curve to back to RGB mode. I have it applied to a function key so I load the image and hit shift F13 and within a few seconds, the yellow is cleaned up and I’m ready to color balance the print.

The take away from this is really two items, one, learn to use LAB mode and second, learn how to use your channels. Channels are a very powerful tool in Photoshop and there are things you can do in a channel that you not do any other way.

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