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You have an old photograph that you would like to retouch, or you have an old photograph that needs restoration. What is the difference between photo restoration and photo retouching?
Also, should you use online photo restoration services and online photo retouching services or do it yourself? If you go online, what do you need to know and if you do it yourself what is involved?
Wow! You sure do ask a lot of questions! (Just kidding!) The differences and similarities between photo restoration and photo retouching is an interesting subject. And when you need something done to a treasured image, it’s an important job.
Difference Between Photo Restoration and Photo Retouching
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What is the difference between photo restoration and photo retouching?
Primarily, the difference is about the condition of the photo and what medium the photo exists in. Though there are numerous overlaps, I tend to describe photo retouching as something I do to a current image to enhance it, while photo restoration is fixing a damaged physical copy.
A couple of examples: I have an image file in JPEG form that I took some time ago, but I’m much better at post processing now than I was then. So, I open up the file in an appropriate program and make minor changes like correcting color or removing a blemish. This is retouching.
Second example: I have an old paper print in a family album that is faded, folded, and torn. But I want it to look as though it was just printed. So, I scan the physical print in the highest resolution I have available and use a sophisticated program such as Adobe photoshop to fill in missing parts of the image, change contrast, and adjust colors. This is retouching.
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There are 2 ways to retouch a photo. Physically and digitally. Retouching a physical print requires using pencils, inks, dyes, blotters, brushes, and airbrushes. While all that was once very common, digital is the preferred method for many photographers now.
With digital image files, we can use our post processing programs for a wide variety of edits. Many times, all that’s necessary is a slight tweak of something. Maybe softening a background for a product shot, opening up a shadow area in a real estate image, or blending out a blemish on a portrait.
Fixing issues common to portraits can be done with our regular programs, or a specialty program with presets designed for the issues we find in portraits. The programs designed for portraits are easy to use and usually include controls for the various things most often retouched, such as removing “red eye” or softening wrinkles and blemishes.
There are smartphone apps that also have basic portrait retouching tools, so retouching a picture is really something virtually anyone can do now. Another fantastic set of benefits for digital photography.
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Photo restoration, physical or digital, requires a lot more user input and is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Physically and digitally, the work is very similar to painting or illustrating in addition to really good photography skills.
Physically and digitally, photo restoration usually begins with capturing a flat lay image or a scan. Physically, an artist then goes to work drawing and painting what the damaged image needs.
Digitally, there is a whole lot more going on now than with simple retouching. Parts of the scanned or photographed image can be cloned, erased, filled in, resized, spun around, replaced, and changed in a thousand other ways.
Most of the work can be done with a heavy duty post processing program such as Adobe Photoshop, but some fixes may need an illustrating program such as Adobe Illustrator or another vector graphics program.
The work is most often done on a copy of the original, but there is also a skill that some restoration artists have that include working on the original. Generally, though, physical or digital restoration is done on a copy, to avoid further damaging the original.
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With ever increasing digital resolution improvements and better and faster image manipulation programs, a line of businesses exist that let you send in digital files or physical prints and slides for someone else to do the photo retouching and photo restoration for you.
The pricing models are all encompassing. You can have minor retouching made to your digital files for a low fee per image or you have a major photo restoration project made possible by a lab with highly trained technicians for higher, but still reasonable prices.
Are online services worth the wait (which can be weeks) and prices? In most cases I’ve tested, yes, they certainly are worth it. With online photo restoration services the difference between photo restoration and photo retouching may be subtle. Since most of it is done digitally, bulk pricing options tend to make it a great option for many of us.
So, if you have older damaged prints you need restored or a digital image that you simply want to improve, photo retouching and restoration are just what you need.