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Copy and Restoration Photography

Professional photographers are often in the position to offer a number of additional services which have the potential to generate new business. Award-winning portrait photographer Robyn Hills M.Photog., FAIPP, describes how she handled the request to restore a damaged photograph.

Being a regional studio based in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, I m mindful that I m part of a smaller community, within a larger  city  zoning. So, while I specialise in portraiture and that is the majority of my studio business, I do sometimes get requests for something outside this parameter.

Our skills as professional photographers can be used in such a variety of ways that it can be fun to get a little outside our comfort zone in order to grow both our businesses and techniques. If we only ever keep doing the same thing each week, we will only get the same results. Trying something really radical, on the other hand, can also be a big risk because it can be too far away from our skill set and that can cause pain for yourself and your client. Moving outwards in increments will give you confidence to build new techniques and keep your clients happy.

Sometimes what we offer is dependent on what we get asked to do. Having someone telephone and ask, "Do you restore old photographs?”is one of those things. I do like to be as helpful as possible to people who  phone with requests, and often you ll need to ask more questions. In this case, these were; When do you need it by?, What will be the final sizing and framing?... and how many copies will be required? If the work is needed for a birthday this weekend, for instance, then I generally can t help them because of the workload I carry. I don t print or frame in-house so wouldn t be able to complete the job on time. I will recommend a local lab that may be able to do a reasonable quality copy print for them at such short notice.

However, once I ve established that I m able to help them within their —and my —time frame, they always want to know how much will it cost.

This is a normal question to expect. I have heard some photographers say that they will not give an answer over the telephone.

On the other hand, I would rather give at least a starting price indicator, because some people either can t afford that amount or weren t expecting it to be that much, so it s better to clarify this on the  phone rather than taking up an appointment at the studio only to find out, within five minutes, it s not going anywhere for them.

Consequently, I give a  from  price. While I m not a big fan of  from  because, as we all know in advertising that it s going to cost you more, it does give them a starting price to check where the job is headed.

It s important to note here that, if youasked to copy a photograph you should first check the situation regarding copyright. For example, can the original photographer or studio still be contacted? If so, do they have the original negatives on file? If the negative no longer exists, does your client have permission to copy the photograph? It s not only the law, it s also a professional courtesy that I would like other photographers to give to me. I have been photographing for over 30 years so there may well be some old images of mine out there that aren t in tip-top condition any longer.

Quoting And Getting The Job

To get this job under way, I need a high-resolution scan of the original image at the size of what the finished print will be. Trying to explain this to people that aren t up with technology can be tricky, but I do like to give them a basic over-view of the work involved so they know what they re paying for, even if they don t always understand it.

You may have a high-quality scanner in-house, but remember the cost of your time to get this right and charge the same amount as if you were sending the job to a professional lab. Whenever sending any original photographs, I do make a quick copy and a scan just on my regular printer as a back-up and reference for the file if needed when talking to the lab. Always send the original either via courier with a tracking number or by registered post for safety. It would indeed be ironic if you managed to lose the original.

I use Prolab in Brisbane (www.prolab.com.au) for services such as high-res scanning and they do a great job. Pat subsequently telephoned me to clarify what was needed —did I want the photo to be the 28x35 cm final size or the photo and the type to be included in the final size? Great question. My client had said they only wanted the photograph restored as they would retype the names themselves. It s interesting to note that clients’skills have also increased and that they came to me for what they couldn t do themselves. However, I made the decision to scan the whole presentation as then I had the best of both options —just to present the photograph or to include the words.

My quote to the client included the high-res scan, the courier fees, the estimated time to retouch the photograph and then, from here, they could choose what size final photographs were ordered from my print pricelist.

On the telephone, I can give the pricing for a high-res scan and the courier fees and approximately $150 for retouching with the qualifier that it will depend on how much work is needed when I actually see the original —so this is the  from  price. Sometimes even this amount is too high and people decide not to proceed. This particular client elected to telephone me back after thinking about it. Always put yourself in their shoes —it s common practice to  phone around  and get a couple of quotes for what we want in life.

When they did call back, I made a time later in the day for them to come in. While in the studio, the husband told me that I was the most expensive quote they d been given. Curious, I asked why they had still come in. It turned out they had called a number of other photographers, some of whom didn t answer even their  phones and another who said,  I m not here all the time”... so they didn t take any of them seriously. See what a big difference how something is worded can make in terms of what your client hears? I had said I d make sure that I was available for this client —which could have also meant that I wasn t there all the time, but luckily I didn t say it like that!


The order form was filled out and signed. A 50 percent deposit was paid, a copy given to client and the time frame agreed upon.

Once the file was back from the lab, I created a layer from the background in Photoshop. I like to have the original sitting underneath as a reference. Have a discussion with your clients about what they expect.

I like to guide them to the understanding that they ll be getting a  restored  photograph —in other words, a version of the original. It won t (and, in my opinion, shouldn t) look like a new photograph that was taken yesterday. This is in homage to the photographer that originally created it and to the age and era of photography in which it was first created. I believe, it should look authentic to that time and place. In this instance, the original photograph would have been a black and white print, sepia-toned and then laboriously hand-coloured. The quality was beautiful, so I wanted to keep this look.

The main damage were age spots, creases in the print surface causing cracking, some water/moisture damage and possibly some bugs had a party and eaten some of the surface emulsion as well. Thankfully, the area with all the faces was in quite good condition.

Using the Cloning tool in Adobe Photoshop, the image was carefully worked over to repair all the damaged areas. Then I started looking more closely at the lettering and immediately thought it would be a shame for the client to re-type it in modern type. I wasn t sure of their understanding of fonts, spacing, layout and so on. While they might have done a great job of it, the chances are that the re-done version would look new and wrong with the photograph.

Keeping an eye on the time I d budgeted to complete the retouching quoted, I selected just the panels ended up having a long chat about family portraiture. Consequently, in the Christmas holidays, when the family is all together, they want me to create their family portrait. So, my theory of  being of service  to your local community worked. While their initial order wasn t large, it was still profitable and best of all, they have now become repeat clients because of the personalised service I was able to offer them. Also, because they came into the studio and saw my work, they fell in love with it and want more. This is something that is hard to do unless you have personal contact with your potential customers.

How To Get More Work

Copy and restoration photography services have the potential to be a large market. While the public is advancing their own skills in Photoshop and other editing programs, they often lack the finesse or expertise to do this level of work competently. So, as more areas of photography get blurred between good amateurs and professionals, this may be something you d like to of type and, with an adjustment layer for Levels, used the white colour picker to remove most of the stains and discolouration from the background paper, simply by change them to white. Where the letters were damaged, I cloned letters from other parts of the text to repair them. The Clone tool was also used to repair the cracks in this area. To get the type to look fresh, I used the black picker in Levels.

Now I had a file that could either be used for just the photograph or also with the original text. I personally liked that the text should stay with the image, but it would be up to the client to decide.

The Happy Client

When the clients came in to approve the work, they ended up ordering one of each —the photograph only and the photograph with type, so was well worth my efforts to give them both options.

Always have a Plan A, В and C. Options give more serviceability to your client and also it s a good thing that, while keeping your client happy, you can value add to the order.

The best part of having a happy client was that by getting this couple into my studio, they also saw the other range of other work that I do and we add to your portfolio. It s a way of connecting with a demographic that has funds to spend on luxury items. Once you ve connected with them and they learn to trust you and your work, they will all have friends in a similar age group and, believe me, they all talk.

If you want to target your advertising towards this group, then check out retirement villages and nursing homes. They often have newsletters that you could advertise in. There are several  over 50s  magazines and mailers as well. Any community groups that cater to learning groups for the older generation would also be a good place to contact. I would suggest doing up a  before and after  photograph sample and some pricing with a note  As an example, this photograph cost $XXX to restore  so they can decide if theirs might be in a better or worse condition and, consequently, which way their price will go.

Be prepared to be very patient because everyone will want to tell you the story of the photograph, how old it is and how they came to have it. Make sure you give them the respect that they deserve.

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