Photographs can be vitally important as both personal and historical artefacts, capturing the faces of loved ones and ancestors as well as famous figures and significant events over the course of the 20th century. However, this modern medium does not always face the test of time well and may encounter devastating damage that cannot always be physically reversed. This is where digital restoration creates a new opportunity to preserve and revive images that might otherwise be lost forever.
Above: the progress of digital restoration can brighten a photograph as well as removing surface damage and stains
As well as providing high-resolution digitisation, our experts can precisely restore a wide variety of visual disturbances, from minor scratches and folds to widespread burn marks, colour loss and water damage. The results can be truly remarkable, giving new life to images that may have never been seen before in such a clear and vivid original appearance.
Above: photographs of all eras can become severely damaged either accidentally, through insufficient protection or household disasters
Our team has been entrusted to restore hundreds of artworks with high sentimental, historical and artistic value, this new digital offering is a complimentary service aimed to preserve and protect all photographic images, no matter how disastrous their damage may be.
Above: even small areas of damage such as cracks and deteriorating corners can be digitally restored
Why can’t photographs be physically restored?
Traditional historic artworks are rarely beyond the scope of physical restoration, their robust structure has often stood the test of time and will continue to for centuries more. Surprisingly, it is modern artistic mediums that are far more likely to face irreversible deterioration – especially photography due to its unique chemical composition.
Above: a damaged panorama photograph with areas of discolouration, bends and tears
Prints from the last 50 years are most likely to have been developed onto photographic paper. This type of card has a thin light-sensitive formula called emulsion, in which the photograph is developed with a short burst of light in a dark room or through a commercial printer. In older photographs, this layer may have been created from gelatin. Irreversible photograph damage occurs when there is a major disturbance to the thin photographic later. For example, the emulsion can break under pressure from a folded line, a scratch, a tear, or due to high levels of heat and moisture.
Above: professional conservators in our studio can restore traditional artworks such as oil paintings with precise physical treatments
Many of the treatments used to save traditional artworks cannot be used when it comes to the conservation of photographs due to the sensitive emulsion layer. Once the photographic image has been removed or distorted, it is not possible to recreate the missing or damaged image in an accurate, meaningful way. Whilst some physical damage can be stabilised and prevented from deteriorating further, a lost or faded area cannot be reinstated without digital intervention.
Above: examples of photographic portraits that have faced damage to their surface layer
Preserving local history
In early 2022, our team was entrusted to restore a culturally important photograph for a guild hall. This image of a former councillor was a key part of local history but had faced damage following an escape of water.
Above: a close-up of mould damage on the guild hall photograph following water damage
The photograph was stuck to various layers of paper and card, all of which were contaminated with mould. The disruption had badly affected the gelatin emulsion layer of the photograph, making it unstable and likely to deteriorate further – in fact, the damaged gelatin layer was likely to continue dissolving until the photograph was entirely lost. Our team offered a digital restoration to ensure it was not left to disappear from the guild hall’s history.
After being photographed in high resolution, the photograph was digitally restored by our expert. This involves the precise removal of damaged and visually disturbed areas through professional editing software. Pixel by pixel the image came back to life, with disruption to the emulsion layer of the original photograph being carefully colour-matched and corrected as close to its original state as possible.
The restored copy was then re-printed on high-quality paper and reinstated in its original frame, which had been cleaned by our conservators and was now free from any mould contamination.
Restoring colour to old photographs
The military photograph below was important to our client’s family but the colour could not be physically restored. Digital restoration from our experts allowed it to return to an original, bright appearance without fear of it deteriorating further and becoming entirely lost. The new digital reprint can be produced numerous times, to be shared with all family members.
Colour can be restored to photographs that have become damaged, faded or disturbed such as a darkening sepia tone that may become worse as time goes on. Our digital restoration experts will use historic sources or your own points of reference to establish the correct colours for all features in a picture, to ensure it is as accurate as possible.
High-quality new prints
One of the best aspects of digitisation is that the digitally restored photographs can be reprinted as many times as you want. This means that family photographs can be easily shared between relatives and historically important photographs can be displayed and enjoyed further.
Above: historic and modern photographs can be restored and re-printed in high quality
Our team can arrange for high-resolution prints to be created, these can be in dimensions of your choice from passport to poster sized. The material of the print can also be selected, though we recommend a high-quality paper or card for the best results. A digital file will also be shared with you to print further copies in the future, or to share easily via e-mail or social media.
Above: entire collections of family photographs can be digitised and re-printed for preservation
Following digital restoration, our team provides a range of conservation-approved framing options if the original frame is no longer suitable. Our specialist framers use acid-free materials to ensure the restored copy is safe from future deterioration, as well as optional museum glass, which allows for a clearer view and strong UV protection.
A portfolio of options can be arranged for you to choose from, either based on the style of the original or new frames to suit your interiors or personal taste. You can find out more about professional conservation framing here.
Protecting original photographs & new prints
If you are looking to further protect your digital reprint or original photograph, our specialist conservators recommend the following:
- Keep the atmosphere at even temperature and humidity levels with good air circulation
- Keep away from direct sunlight or bright artificial lighting, use UV protective frame glazing options or keep the print/photograph in a shaded area to avoid fading and chemical reactions
- Always set photographs back from the glass in a frame to prevent sticking and ensure acid-free mounts and backing boards are used
- Avoid attics and basements as storage spaces due to lack of temperature and humidity control, attics may also have the possibility of leaks, pests, and unseen damage
Above: sentimentally important photos such as family wedding pictures can be immortalised in digital, but new prints should still be cared for with appropriate measures
- Keep the original film reels if they are available, as this will allow further prints to be traditionally created or digital copies to be taken from the reel
- For important or treasured photographs, always make one copy for display and one for safe-keeping, including a digital copy as a backup
- Do not handle important photographs with bare hands as oils from the skin and fingerprints may leave contamination and marks
- Take care in removing photographs from an old album or frame, if there is any resistance or sign of deterioration contact our team for a safe removal
Above: original photographs should also be preserved where possible, our conservators can help to ensure that they are as safe and free of contamination such as mould
Expert conservation care
Our digital team works within a professional conservation studio, making our offering unique in taking notice of the physical photograph and how it can be cared for alongside digitisation. Whether it is of high sentimental or monetary value, our specialist conservators will ensure that your photograph is safe throughout the process. Physical preservation treatments can also be provided if required, such as the safe elimination of mould spores or stabilisation of the structure following severe damage – allowing you to protect the remaining photograph whilst the digital version is restored, re-printed and displayed.
Above: photographs with active mould spores can have these safely eliminated to protect the original whilst the newly restored digital version goes on display
Professional photograph digitisation
Digital restoration is usually offered when a damaged image or document (usually a photograph) is beyond the scope of the physical treatments offered by our trained conservators. However, digitisation and digital archiving may want to be considered if your photograph, even in good condition, fits one of the following categories:
- Sentimentally important with personal significance
- Family heirloom photographs to re-print and share in high resolution
- Historically or culturally important photographs
- Daguerreotypes or historic photographs that may be too sensitive to display
High-resolution images can be arranged for one photograph or an entire collection. Our archiving services are available if you require cataloguing of digital photographs for your family, estate or community project. This can be achieved alongside restoration to ensure every photograph is in its very best condition.
Above: contrast and definition can also be improved through digital restoration
Get in touch
If you are interested in the digital restoration and preservation of your photograph, please speak to our team for further advice.
You can get in touch by emailing [email protected] or call 0207 112 7576 for a conversation about our services.
You might also be interested in: