A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture

Improving Reproductions

Did a second batch of old portrait reproductions for my father-in-law. I took more liberties than in the first batch. Let’s call it progress of insight, but it was also a matter of realising the uses of technical tricks. The change of insight was that this was not about being as faithful as possible to the old pictures as they lay before me (as I worded it in my 2008-08-07 ‘Old skool’ entry), but to aim for the best effect from the point of view of the beholders—my father-in-law, in this case. He wants these pictures as reminiscences of the ones depicted, or to get a better impression of family members deceased before he could know them. So what he wants is as clear a portrait as possible, a reconstruction of the original photo at least when it comes to the persons’ portraits. Why didn’t I think of that before? Every professional photographer knows it: people are not interested in the photos per se but in the persons!

Sometimes the photos were so bad that it was not worthwhile to try to improve them, but there were some cases where Lightroom 2 could spice up the persons’ faces. Here’s a little ‘how to’: photo 1 in this blog is a detail cut from the version I would have handed to my father-in-law in the first batch. But I did not like the flare from the backlight flowing over the roofs in between the houses. LR2 gives the option to apply corrections to parts of the photo: you just ‘paint over’ the area with a brush (in the Develop-module). To see where I am working, I set the brush at ‘+2 exposure’ or something similar—as long as it is visible (see photo 2, from a different one, obviously, than the comparative picture). The brush settings include large size (for working fast) and a high feather (for a flowing, invisible border). Remember: LR makes no changes to your original photo at all, everything can be undone—no need to be nervous about painting a granddad a little white!

Then I set the sliders in the painted-over area to what gives the best effect: in this case especially exposure down a bit; besides I added contrast and sharpness. The result is not dramatically different (my father-in-law must think it is the same old picture), but just a little more recognisable as a portrait. I hope you can see the difference in this small reproduction; I do, in the original of this 1930s family photo.

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