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Digital Photo Retouching and Compositing

How we see the world is influenced by the images around us. Just look at the difference between these historic black and white photos and the colorized versions. From the Reddit ColorizedHistory project. Or these hand retouches from the collection of British Photographer Tony Richards.

It seems that everyone has played at putting a dogs head on a photo of their ex or something equally amusing. Thats not what I'm talking about here. Retouching is the subject of much discussion these days after some poor decisions made over the years. There is even an entertaining website called Photoshop Disasters. Enter it at your own risk.

Imaging is much more extensive. It can be used to create things and people who don't exist. We create the future and alternate worlds. We use it to describe things to others. We show others what it would be like to walk in building not yet constructed, interact with products or go to foreign places. these are important services. But beyond commercial uses, images are our history, our memories and our legacy to future generations. One of the most comon uses is reversing the ravages of time...

Technically these digital processes all entail using some technique to alter photo elements. If there is a line between retouching, restoration and imaging, its a blurry one. The general consensus is:

    Restoration - Removing damage and rebuilding missing elements (non taxable)
    Retouching - Enhancing and removing unwanted photo elements or cosmetic flaws
    Imaging, Compositing or Illustration - create one or more new images by Adding or Combining elements

It also takes drawing and painting skills to pull images out of thin air... adding elements the camera missed or literally painting with photo parts.

More examples in the Illustration section of the Portfolio.
Restoration Samples, Information on restoration techniques, storage, and conservation of materials can be found in the Data sheets, Links to related resources, and some Conservation suppliers.

The images and data on this site are the property of sandra ragan/plum grafik, clients thereof, and others as noted. Please respect their hard work and creativity by following the "Golden Rule,"
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Consumer Photo Retouching

Old photos are like endangered animals. Once gone they can never be replaced. We need to take better care of them. When something awful happens to a cherished image its traumatic. Worse yet is when we lose a loved one and have nothing to remember them by. As dramatic as the results are when an image is restored, the positive reactions of the recipients can be worth more than the monetary rewards.

Preventing the kind of damage you see below is the most cost effective. The effects of chemicals in scrapbooks, albums and framing, as well as air pollution, body oils, sunlight, decoupage, and other hazards can destroy them over time. Store them properly and if you want to give copies to others or use them for creative displays, please make copies and keep the originals in storage.

A very common problem, family photos in very bad shape. The term for these photos on card stock are Cabinet Cards and you can actually date them from the style of the card. This restoration involved a high quality scan and reference photos of the individuals. It helps to have experience in portraiture when you need to rebuild large portions of peoples faces. The final image was output to 8x10 photographic film as well as large format digital prints.

The parents two children killed in an auto accident wanted a nice photo of them together.
Back before cell phone cameras, none of the reference photos were very high quality, a few InstaMatic snapshots and marginal laser prints. The final was a full color, digitally printed 11x17.

Some retouching projects are more challenging than others.

A photo print on card stock from the 1890s was in very bad shape.
San Francisco artist Eugene Tangier in his studio shortly before his untimely death.

The client was a collector of Eugene's work. The enhancement resulted in proving the authenticity of existing works and identifying several previously unknown works.

Display of historical materials has its drawbacks. This Contra Costa County cowboy was one of several photos fading on the museum wall. Several rounds of high resolution scans and hours of work were needed to bring out the details of the original.


Commercial Retouching

Ace Architects

The Dixie Jordan house replaced a modest 1920's era Spanish Colonial Revival cottage for the newspaper publisher after the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. The impressive photos of the newly completed house against the devastated hillside were badly off color and obscured by the temporary electric lines. The side-by-side above is a screen capture comparison during the retouch for architect David Weingarten at Ace Architects who included this image in one of his books. Other projects for this client can be found in the Portfolio under Illustration.

Custom Process / California Department of Water Resources (DWP)


In another Hurst related work done years before at Custom Process, the photo of San Simeon was a test of my retouching abilities prior to a job being awarded. The task: add to the top of the photo and remove the jug in the foreground. Yes, we passed.

Custom Process / Anderson Cary Design

Often ill, it was easier to re-purpose photos of Jerry Garcia than to schedule a new photo shoot.
The piece was created for hang tags on his line of silk products (the tie and Whoppie's dress).
Later it was used for a tribute in People Magazine (below). Anderson Cary Design.

Custom Process / Village Resorts

In this piece, the salesman and his briefcase were not found to be helpful to the advertisement.
With todays tools I would have been able to turn the man's head toward his companion.

Custom Process / San Francisco Public Library

During the ceremonies for the Grand Reopening, the head librarian was trying to be in too many places at once and no one noticed that she missed the official group shot of with then Mayor Willie Brown. The photographer came back in a few days later and took a shot of her standing on the same balcony so I could add her into the shot. There was a bit of enhancement and stray visitors removed from the background.

Custom Process was a large Berkeley, CA commercial Kodak photo processing lab that featured a sizable digital department (see Resume), mounted and laminated large prints, provided Trade Show booth sections and large format traditional photographic prints. They were equipped to do very high resolution film scanning, digital to film output, Kodak processes like Photo CD and Portfolio CD and high quality color digital prints.

Other projects for this client can be found in the Portfolio under Illustration.

Carver + Schicketantz Architects

Another common request is showing a client what something will look like... its hard for most people to imagine what that sink would look like with matching cabinets and an integrated counter top. Carver + Schicketantz Architects

More complex imaging can involve days of work just removing existing elements.

Redesign proposal for a stairwell railing in a Southern California beach house, 2009

1) existing turned wood Colonial railing. The railing was removed, along with reflections, complex cast shadows from windows and skylights. Areas behind the railing were patiently rebuilt.

2) mock-ups of polished aluminum, anodized aluminum and glass railings.

Other projects for this client can be found in the Portfolio under Client Visualization Illustration.

Bio-Rad Laboratories Diagnostics Division (ISO 9000 ) and Corporate Offices

International product catalogue cover composite from stock photos, product photos, DNA results, graphs, document scans and postscript line drawings.

The images and data on this site are the property of sandra ragan/plum grafik, clients thereof, and others as noted. Please respect their hard work and creativity by following the "Golden Rule,"
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Webmaster: webmaster @ Thanks.

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