Retouching Vintage Photographs

Vintage photographs for Find A Grave

Often when I’m researching historic cemeteries to photograph I turn to a website named “”
Recently, out of curiosity I decided to look up the graves of my grandparents on this site to see if and how they were listed.
Thankfully, someone had recorded a memorial within the site and a photographer had added pictures of the gravestones.
To my surprise there were no links from one family member to another, parents, spouse, siblings.
The natural progression for me was to then add these family connections then locate and upload a photograph of each individual.Colorado - mary margaret cunning - Trinidad - vintage photograph - historic cemeteries - retouching - post processing- monochrome -

As much as I am into photography, I found I had minimal photographs of any family members beyond my parents generation.
Namely a half dozen or less of my grandparents and barely one each of my great grandparents or great-greats.
So the task became to cleanup the vintage photos I had in contribution for the memorial.

To start I scan the original photograph into as high resolution as possible, at least 300dpi up to 1200dpi and save as tiff format.
My LR to PS workflow exports edits in tiff so I find this a natural fill to start with.
I start in PS doing my initial cleanup.
I will use the spot healing brush in large open spaces,skies, water, open land, etc. to fix any distractions from water-spots to discolorations.
Next I use the healing brush for the same in areas where I need to retain the texture, clothes, skin, etc.
Often I will se the clone stamp tool to repair areas of pattern with texture, furniture, wallpapers and such.
Finally, I will use a brush or pen tool to touch up individual pixels and save as my base file.Colorado - martha e cunning - Trinidad - vintage photograph - historic cemeteries - retouching - post processing- monochrome -

Now I return the edited file to LR for the tonal, sharpening and smoothing adjustments.
I set my white balance selecting a point for a middle grey, as most vintage photographs are film based and exposures were based on this point.
(Tip: Darker skin complexions were closer to middle grey than light complexions and most Caucasian skins tones work well at about 2/3 to 1 stop higher setting.
Also, in the film days middle grey was viewed as 18% while the digital world is closer to 12-13% so I choose a point that is perceptual.)
Then I set my exposures, curves, clarities and color tones.
Then back to PS for the selective edits.Colorado - fred c cunning - Trinidad - vintage photograph - historic cemeteries - retouching - post processing- monochrome -

This trip to PS I generally use the curves layer to perform selective burns and dodges.
Also if I need to change brightness or contrast to a certain area I can mask in a layer for a fine tuned adjustment.
When satisfied, I’ll flatten the layers and send back to LR for split tone adjustments if a monochrome and any final sharpening or smoothing desired.Colorado - blanche a cunning - Trinidad - Las Animas - vintage photograph - historic cemeteries - retouching - post processing- monochrome -

I try to keep most of the retouching techniques to the initial cleanup of distortions from damage or age, waterspots, mold, wrinkles and so forth
while retaining any imperfections from film or paper development.
I feel the goal is to present a clean image without degrading the vintage photograph look.
The beauty of these old photographs is what was made with the technology at the time, film, paper, tintype, etc.
So I try to make the digital image resemble the initial as close as possible.

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