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Pavement Artist, Victoria Embankment, London.
Digitally restored: 14th December 2011 by Philip Battle
Following on from my previous blog yesterday, I thought it would be fun to restore this delightful magic lantern slide, taken by Victorian photographer C. F. Cembrano in 1890.
Perhaps I should explain the process I used: Firstly I had to in some way digitise the original glass plate and import it into the computer. Not as straight forward as it may seem, scanning it in using a flatbed scanner just would not work as the fine photographic features would not show up without some kind of backlighting….I tried photographing it against a window in daylight and although better, the lighting source was patchy, which affected the print. In the end I used a trusty light box, simulating daylight and even light source, and photographed it in RAW using a Canon 400D SLR camera, mounted on a tri-pod.
The original image picks up all the details of the glass plate; as you can see it was tinted in Sepia tone, this is due not to age but to the chemical processes used in developing the image. Originally the process involved adding a pigment made from the inky secretion of a Cuttlefish to the photograph during development. For the scientifically inclined, the word ‘Sepia’ comes from the genus of Cephalopod, which is a group of creatures including the cuttlefish. This is also why it has a capital letter. Sepia images have their characteristic brown nature right from development, because of a chemical reaction that occurs during processing.
The next stage was to open the RAW image in Photoshop CS3. After doing so, I de-saturated the image to black & white, re-cropped and used ‘levels’ and ‘curves’ layers to improve overall contrast and light values. I then used the ‘Spot healing-brush’ and the ‘Clone-stamp’ tool to remove dust specks and flaws due to aging. This gave me a beautifully resorted black and white image that I could use as a base for colouration.
One of the interesting things about Victorian Magic Lanterns is that long before colour developing, photographers had practiced the technique of hand-colouring plates using transparent tints. So in restoring this image I thought it would be a fun idea to do the same using digital tints. The trick here is not to overdo the technique, and to keep the colours subtle and almost understated so as not to overpower the finished image. I built up the colour using a multitude of ‘Hue & Saturation’ layers in Photoshop. (About 30 in all) With each layer I would use the ‘colourise’ command and then ‘inverse’ this. Then using the ‘paint brush’ tool to re-colour the image. I did this until I was happy with the finished effect.
Now this may seem very complex to somebody who has no knowledge of Photoshop, but believe me, it’s a really simple and fun thing to do. I hope you like the finished piece. I think it takes nothing away from the original image, but is a great way to enhance your enjoyment of old photographs and in some ways bring the images and the people in them closer to the modern day viewer.
All we need to do now is find out who this pavement artist was; what’s his story?